Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cinco de Mayo de Cinco

Today is Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for May 5th), and not only that, but it's May 5, 2005: 05/05/05, Cinco de Mayo de Cinco, a great excuse for a party, for Mexican food and Mexican beer.

Most Americans don't have a clue what Cinco de Mayo is, aside from the fact that it's Mexican and is an good excuse to get plastered. Most people who have any idea about the holiday think it is Mexican Independence Day (May 5, July 4, what's the difference?), but actually it commemorates a rather small but surprising underdog military victory by the Mexicans against the invading French, a battle that occurred almost 40 years after Mexico's independence. In Mexico, it is a regional holiday, celebrated only in the state where the battle occurred.

I heard on the radio this morning that some in the Hispanic community are becoming uncomfortable with the way the Anglos, and particularly the Anglo commercial interests, have misappropriated Cinco de Mayo. The holiday is rapidly becoming a Mexican version of St. Patrick's Day, a holiday that is nominally Mexican but mostly an excuse for Anglos to sell food and beer to other Anglos, none of whom have any idea what the holiday is really about. Although some have tried to use interest in the holiday to bolster Hispanic pride, others have opted out of the corrupted, commercialized version of Cinco de Mayo in favor of a more significant holiday, the real Mexican Independence Day, September 16. Conveniently, that's close to Labor Day, so the Anglos are all partied-out and are less likely to co-opt it!

So what is any of this doing on a Jewish blog? (aside from the fact that I myself am planning to party tonight, though mostly because of the amusing 05/05/05 aspect of the date rather than Cinco de Mayo; we also celebrated 03/03/03, 02/02/02, and of course 01/01/01) .

I understand how some Hispanics feel about what is happening to Cinco de Mayo. I watched it happen to Chanukkah, a Jewish holiday that, like Cinco de Mayo, was a minor holiday commemorating a military victory that was distorted by commercial interests into a reason for spending money. I can imagine the dread I would feel if the Jewish holiday of Purim (which is admittedly a holiday for drinking and eating) were to be taken over by gentiles who have no idea what it meant. And I have watched a Catholic friend of mine express her frustration when people who partied all night long on Mardi Gras ask her why she's got dirt on her forehead the next morning (Ash Wednesday, which is more or less the reason for Mardi Gras).

I wish the Hispanics in our country the best of luck in trying to maintain the integrity of their holiday! And I wish anyone who celebrates it a festive Cinco de Mayo de Cinco!

(The time at the bottom of this post is, of course, altered for your amusement)

  • The true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, at MexicoOnline
  • A Hispanic Mexican restaurant owner confused by the holiday, in the Sun Sentinel
  • Hispanics in Oregon looking for a better day to celebrate, at Oregon Live
  • A Hispanic community in Texas using the holiday to bolster Hispanic pride, at KWTX