Literary, “the Fifth of May” is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the Battle of Puebla which occurred on May 5, 1862. According to Mattern (2006), France sent its army to Mexico in 1861 to collect the debts. The army was well-trained and stronger than the struggling Mexican army. It managed to go all the way to Puebla, where it faced strong resistance from the Mexicans. Against all odds, the Mexicans enjoyed a huge victory. However, the celebration was short lived because the French army regrouped and eventually took over Mexico before being defeated and expulsed in 1867. Nonetheless, the euphoria of a rare victory against a strong force is remembered every 5th of May. This is not the Independence Day of Mexico as most people think.
Cinco de Mayo is a day for celebrating the Mexican history and culture. Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated more in the US than in Mexico. It was first celebrated in the US in 1863 inSouthern California to show solidarity with the Mexicans in their fight against the French rule. By the 1930s, it turned out to be an opportunity to promote ethnic consciousness, celebrate Mexican identity, and build solidarity in the community. Mexican-American youths liked the event because it brought about some bi-national flavor (Mattern, 2006). Therefore, its celebration helps to build American-Mexican pride. The holiday began to take a commercial flavor when corporate sponsors came in. Nowadays, the holiday is more of a day to celebrate Mexican culture, food, traditions, and traditional drinks. For some people, it is an opportunity to get drunk.
In the US, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with fanfare because it is more of a marketing opportunity than anything else. Since there is a large population of Mexicans in the US, business men, especially the restaurants take this opportunity to sell Mexican tequila and food. They also bring the Mariachi bands to entertain clients. Springtime events held during the first week of May in celebration of the holiday include street fairs, carnivals, and multi-day festivals in various parts of the country. Other events that are held to mark the holiday include live Mexican music, Spanish rock, salsa, and Chicano rock music. In Chicago, the Douglas Park hosts more than 200,000 people for the celebration that include food booths, kids areas, musical events, games, and cultural display (Nobleman, 2004). However, the best and the most genuine celebrations occur in regions with high Mexican populations.
In Mexico, the holiday is celebrated in a low-key manner. Although students get the day off, closing of government offices and banks varies from one state to the other since the holiday is voluntary. The major fiestas and parades are held in Puebla. Several days of lectures, concerts, children’s story telling and handcrafts programs are held in the days leading to the May 5th. Parades are also held in Puebla. They crisscross the streets with floats symbolizing the Mexican culture and heritage. The citizens also get the chance to show their love and appreciation to the military. Similarly, a mock battle is showcased to commemorate the fight that took place in Puebla. The public is allowed to join with their preferred mode of dressing. Communities living next to the Mexican airport in the city make up their costumes and hold street parades and parties. The celebration starts at around 7.00 am as muskets are fired into the air during the day.
Additionally, colorful decorations are displayed in all the corners of the city to give it a celebration touch. Paper Mache figures and colored papers are used to make the decorations; children receive toys and candy from Pinatas hanged in the city. Many figures and animals are also displayed in Puebla as a form of Mexican tradition. The dancing goes on late in the night as Mariachi travels across the streets and brings laughter and music to the crowds. However, the rest of Mexico does not hold Cinco de Mayo in high self-esteem like Puebla.
Although Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday, it is not a big deal in Mexico. In fact, the Independence Day is more important. The lack of enthusiasm is experienced partly because most people consider the holiday as a commemoration of a battle rather than the celebration of Mexican culture. It is celebrated more in America than in Mexico especially in former Mexican territories like Texas and California. According to Nobleman (2004), it is best known as a day of celebrating the experience and culture of the Americans of Mexican origin.
Regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, most Americans celebrate the holiday. To some extent, this indicates that Americans are appreciating ethnic diversity in the country. Most Mexicans invite their friends for celebrations that stretch late into the night. The celebrations also use traditional Mexican symbols like Virgen de Guadalupe and recognition of prominent Mexicans like Cesar Chavez (Nobleman, 2004). Special events are held to educate pupils about the historical significance of the holiday. This is a very significant strategy because it helps the Mexicans living in America to relate to their traditions and historical background.
On this day, Mexicans in America are willing to spend as much as they can to have fun. This is one of their ways to remember their traditions because most of their lives are based on the American lifestyle. Similarly, most Mexican immigrants leave their families back home in pursuit of the American dream. They go through many challenges looking for money to remit to their families. Some people spend more than five years without seeing their loved ones. Therefore, this holiday is very special for the Mexicans living away from home as it reminds them of their tradition. However, Bautista (2012) laments that a study by Clayton Hurd, an anthropologist, depicted Latino students being alienated from the non Latino whites during some of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
Despite its historical importance, commercial interests have capitalized on Cinco de Mayo. This is one of the reasons why the holiday is more popular in the US. Mexican products and services are advertised in the media to attract customers. Unfortunately, most businessmen in the US take this day as an opportunity to sell beer rather than commemorate the real purpose of the holiday. Cinco de Mayo is the day when the second largest amount of beer is consumed (Bautista 2012). It is a day when Americans and Mexicans put their ethnic differences aside and celebrate their coexistence and create local identity which is very significant in the growth of any child. However, most Americans do not understand the historical significance of Cinco de Mayo. All they know is that it gives them a chance to have fun.
Ethnic celebrations are, therefore, very important because they remind the people about special events that occurred in their history. Although it is not so highly celebrated in Mexico as in America, it allows the Mexicans to appreciate the sacrifices made by their army to liberate the country from the French rule. It also gives a chance for non-Mexicans to learn more about their friends’ culture. The interaction between people from different ethnic backgrounds promotes cultural diversity, peace, and harmony. Since America is a multicultural nation, ethnic celebrations are the best ways to appreciate our diversity and work together to create a better country.