Cinco de Mayo: It’s not all about burros and ponchos.

Ever wondered what Cinco de Mayo is really about? No, it’s not Independence Day. Let a thoroughbred Mexican clear that haze for ya.

But first, some personal stuff. It is no secret that I once again went on a long hiatus from this blog. Nothing particularly gruesome about it (not like my meltdown of about half a year ago); I have just been greatly disoriented. As I have said in previous entries, I find myself starting from scratch at a point in life when most have it all figured out and their path lies before them, clear and cut. Esentially, after quite a few years of walking the road ahead of me, I suddenly broke through the fence in a mad charge and ran into uncharted territory. The feeling I had upon doing so was of redemption and freedom: I had averted impending disaster, and I was now free to blaze my own trail. Problem is, I have hardly any idea which way to go. I mean, I know what I want to have and what I want to be; but I have no idea how to get there.

This confusion and lack of direction have had me bumping into walls and desperately trying to figure out a path (imagine you are standing still and turning your head around, to and fro, very fast. Gets you dizzy, doesn’t it?). It’s hard to describe the anxiety and despair that this has caused me. On top of that, I made the silly folly of putting a lot of effort into repressing myself in terms of expression like talking, writing, showing feelings, being around people and all that. To put it a bit more bluntly, it was an all out effort to murder my passions. I truly felt it was necessary as part of my struggle to remain sane through these times of confusion, to cope with all that was going on and endure the helpless feeling that was overcoming me (and to be able to power through what passes as work nowadays for me). I succeeded, let me tell you. So much, in fact, that I came to the conclusion that blogging and tweeting was silly, just a phase that was over; and readied myself for a gray, aimless existence.

But… I simply am not that kind of person. No matter how often I am battered, ground to dust, bent out of shape, shoved into a hollow golf ball, sooner or later I will spring forth like nothing happened (well, that’s not entirely accurate. I will normally have a new scar, maybe two, to show for it). Thus, true to my nature, I inevitably realized that this was not my place. My impulses, my passions, they are too great for me to ignore, and what’s more, I don’t want to ignore them. Today, I had (have) work to do. But I also had the impulse to blog; I wanted to write, I wanted to express myself. So I chose to follow that impulse, and give not a damn if later I have to work harder to catch up. I am not going to let anything (or anyone) shape who I am. I will find outlets and venues to be myself, to express my ideas or propagate those of other minds that I deem worthy and whose messages I make mine.

This pause was in fact beneficial, as it let me know that blogging is my thing. I walked away from it, and I was naturally drawn back to it. I mean, have you any idea how many drafts I left here (some unfinished, some pretty much done)? And I returned and had ideas for a few more which I sketched real fast before yet another one sprang in my head when I remembered today’s date and here I am, typing furiously and going with the flow…!

In short, this is part of who I am, and in this ongoing effort I am making to find and define myself, I am also making it a point to be and express that self. This blog is a need for me, not a mere luxury. Thus I will find the time to post here regularly, for my own sake. But enough of that for now, you have been very patient through this tirade of mine. So then…


What is 5 de Mayo really about?

Americans gleefully take this as a good time to celebrate Mexican culture, and I for one find that heartwarming, although their way of doing it (with the ponchos and the burros and all that) tickles me. I don’t begrudge it, really; St. Paddy’s is rather similar. This being more of a party than a serious holiday, it is also shrouded in misconceptions. Many folks I have personally spoken with, believe (or know people who do) that 5 de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. The true backstory goes as follows:

Halfway through the XIX century, Mexico was nearing bankruptcy after three wars tore through the land. Benito Juarez, who was then President (random fun fact: Mussolini was named Benito after Juarez!), declared that for the time being there would be no more payments on foreign debt. Three countries (Spain, Britain and France) sent naval forces to demand reimbursement. Two of them retreated after successful negotiations, but one (La France) chose to instead invade the vulnerable country. They entered through Veracruz and marched towards Mexico City. Along the way, they encountered the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, in Puebla. The French, then considered the premier army in the world, attacked an opposing force which they outgunned and outnumbered almost two to one… and were crushed for the first time in 50 years (do I hear a Canadienne saying IN YOUR FACE?).

This was on May the 5th, 1862 (hence we commemorate the Battle of Puebla), and meant a huge boost in morale for the Mexican people. Granted, it did not go too well after that… the French came back, twisted Mexico’s arm, and placed an emperor to rule the country. Not much later, Mexico struck back, shoved the French out, and uh, executed said emperor by firing squad… ah, quite the merry times, eh?

Anyway, the festivity migrated to the U.S. when Mexican communities living in what is now known as California began celebrating the Mexican victory as soon as they heard about it (yes, we’re talking 1860 and up), and continued the tradition year after year. Well over a century later it began to spread throughout the country and, lo and behold, it is now a government-sanctioned holiday.

On the Southern side of the border, the celebration is not as merry or widespread; it is mostly centered in Puebla, where the battle occurred. However, it is still well remembered with all the solemnity that the event deserves, and in fact the state where  the General that lead the Mexican forces that day was born, was later officially named Coahuila de Zaragoza (after Ignacio Zaragoza).

That’s the gist of it, friends. Now you know what is actually commemorated that day. I hope you enjoyed this short tour through History.

See you next week.


3 Responses to “Cinco de Mayo: It’s not all about burros and ponchos.”

  1. […] Cinco de Mayo: It’s not all about burros and ponchos. […]

  2. Thank you for the your well written personal evolution and the history of Cinco de Mayo. That part of the world and it’s history, beyond a few molecules of fact about Cortés, is a deficiency of mine.

    • Cultural exchange is something that has fascinated me for the longest time, and it’s always a pleasure to share bits a pieces of the culture I inherited with anyone who will listen. I’m very glad you found it to your liking, thank you for stopping by!

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