A Little Victory: Celebrating Mexican Culture
"On Cinco de Mayo, everybody’s Latino.”
As a small kid growing up in and around Houston, I assumed the whole world celebrated Cinco de Mayo. It was a day to eat good food, see colorful outfits and decorations and listen to mariachi music.
As I got older, I realized that in most areas it was mostly celebrated in bars and Tex-Mex restaurants—if at all.
I think that's kind of unfortunate.
Sure, the holiday is barely recognized in most of Mexico. Here in the States, it is often erroneously taken for Mexican Independence Day, which is actually a significant holiday celebrated every Sept. 16.
Despite the confusion, I think that the original Cinco de Mayo story is a pretty neat one.
After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the country was in economic and political turmoil. In 1862, France attempted to establish a European ruler to expand its empire and collect on unpaid debts. Although the French invasion was eventually (although only briefly) successful, in an almost David-and-Goliath-like scenario, one modestly armed and significantly outnumbered Mexican militia in the town of Puebla defeated the French army and halted invasion efforts for over a year.
Although the victory was short lived, the psychological impact on Mexico during this incredibly fractured and chaotic time was significant. Despite a severe disadvantage on the battlefield, Mexicans realized they were powerful when united.
These days, the backstory gets muddled and sometimes over commercialized. However, for many Hispanic communities throughout the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has also become a day to show cultural pride and spread awareness.
This afternoon in the District will be the 20th annual National Cinco de Mayo Festival, a free event that includes live music and dance performances, arts and crafts for kids, a Mexican market, culinary demonstrations, health screenings and traditional Latin American food. Performances will be held at the Sylvan Theatre from noon to 6 p.m., on the National Mall at the base of the Washington Monument.
To me, the concepts behind Cinco de Mayo are ones that all cultures can appreciate: Triumph in the face of adversity, the plight of the underdog and the power of a unified vision. In addition, the holiday is a whole lot of fun.
So after hitting the Big Flea, stop by Los Tios or Taqueria Poblano for lunch. Then head into the District for the National Cinco de Mayo Festival. Try your hand at cooking chicken mole or a tres leches cake. Help your kids make maracas or a piñata. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo and learn a little more about Mexico.
“On Cinco de Mayo, everybody’s Latino.” — Maru Montero, founder of the National Cinco de Mayo Festival.
How do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Tell us in the comments.