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Cinco de Mayo

Why do Americans celebrate and Mexicans barely notice?

by Borgna Brunner
Latin Sun

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"I couldn't get over how it was a big holiday on one side of the border, the American side."
— a Mexican student studying in El Paso

Looking for a reason to celebrate? Break out a bottle of tequila, or at least a bag of tortilla chips—it's time for Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May). Although it is often referred to as Mexico's Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo actually marks the 1862 battle in Puebla when a small, outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French, a turning point in Mexico's struggle for independence.

Just Another Gringo Holiday . . .

Not to put a damper on the festivities, but Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that is in fact more beloved by Americans than Mexicans. "I couldn't get over how it was a big holiday on one side of the border, the American side," commented a mystified Mexican student studying in El Paso.

One American traveler, after spending a lackluster Cinco de Mayo in central Mexico, learned from a shopkeeper that it was just "a gringo holiday made to sell Mexican beer to Americans."

And We Thought We Were So Cosmopolitan

Why is the holiday a subdued event in its country of origin, while Americans are donning sombreros? One theory is that Cinco de Mayo, first brought to the U.S. by Mexican immigrants during the 1920s, grew in importance when the 1960s Chicano movement adopted the holiday as an avenue for generating ethnic pride.

Its political purpose gradually diminished, thereby opening the holiday up to a wider Mexican-American population, and finally to mainstream America via advertising. Beer and cigarette companies manufactured rowdy Cinco de Mayo fetes that invite comparison to what is referred to as . . .

The St. Patrick's Day Phenomenon

Ironically, for almost its entire history St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated with far greater fanfare in Boston or New York than it was in Galway or Dublin. In Ireland, St. Patrick's feast day was a time to attend church and celebrate in low-key manner—green beer and "Kiss me, I'm Irish buttons" were strictly made in America. Struck by the strange paradox that parts of the world (the U.S., Canada, and Australia) were making a bigger hoopla out of St. Patrick Day than the Emerald Isle itself—the Irish began a national campaign in the last decade to transform St. Patrick's Day into an authentic Irish celebration.

Sombreros and Shamrocks

On a lighter and more charitable note—one in keeping with the spirit of our earlier festive mood—we could always conclude that Americans are simply more advanced than other nations when it comes to the art of the holiday.

With our sombreros and shamrocks, Americans may rightly be accused of mawkish excess, but no one can say we don't know how to have fun.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
William O. Douglas has served the longest term (36 years and 209 days) on the Supreme Court.

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