Cinco de Mayo cheer

5 May 2011

In previous years I’ve held forth (tediously, pedantically) about why Cinco de Mayo is an odd choice for a holiday. It commemorates the Mexican victory over the French Army at the 1862 Battle of Puebla — a great victory indeed, aside from the fact that a year later the French returned, crushed the Mexican forces, and ruled the nation until 1867 as part of an empire-building effort. Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexican independence (that’s September 16). Nor is it an event celebrated nationally in Mexico. It’s best viewed as an American ethnic day of celebration — as my Dear Friend said last year, it’s a chance to say “yay, Mexican Americans!” not unlike St. Patrick’s Day’s “yay, Irish Americans!”

Despite all my pedantic skepticism, I’ve grown up with Cinco de Mayo — all those years ago in my tiny rural grammar school, my classmates dressed in those beautiful circle skirts and formal dress suits with tap shoes — impressing the hell out of the 5-year-old me. This year I’m glad to be celebrating in a city steeped with Mexican history and culture.

Why celebrate? School is over for the year. I’m weighed down by piles of papers, senior theses, and dissertation chapters, but I’m done with lecturing. I might even be done with grade negotiations. Viva la fiesta!

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