By Larry Floersch
Cinco de Mayo is just days away, so I’m sure that all across the United States people are digging out their huaraches and sombreros, looking up guacamole recipes, and beginning to review the takeout menu at local Taco Bells. I know I personally have been searching closets for the serape I picked up in Tijuana during my college days. At least I think it was a serape. And I think it was Tijuana. And I think I was in college. And it might have been margaritas. Or peyote. It’s all kind of a blur, if you know what I mean.
One would think the people of Mexico would be getting excited, too, but the fifth of May is not such a big deal south of the border that is in the news so often nowadays. The people of Mexico are not excited because the fifth of May is not the Mexican Fourth of July. I repeat to all you potential revelers out there, Cinco de Mayo is NOT the Mexican Fourth of July. I think the confusion on the part of Americans is probably a result of the Aztec calendar. The Aztec calendar has a 260-day cycle imbedded in a 365-day cycle and 13-day weeks, or something like that, so the Fourth of July in Mexico actually is on September 16. They also call it El Grito de Dolores so it won’t be confused with the Fourth of July.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory by the Mexican Army over—I’m not kidding here, look it up—the French, at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The French were there because their leader, Napoleon III, decided to take over Mexico to settle debts Mexico could not repay because Mexico was destitute after most of its territory was taken by the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846–48. That war was the result of the annexation of Texas by the U.S. in 1845, an annexation with which Mexico oddly disagreed. After the Mexican-American War, the U.S. ended up not only with Texas, but also what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.
In 1862 folks in the United States paid little attention to the Battle of Puebla because, first of all, it would be at least another hundred years before taco trucks would be plying the streets of Manhattan, and, second, the Americanos were too busy fighting each other over slavery.
Mexico had abolished slavery 33 years earlier in 1829, and it demonstrates how freeing slaves can come back to bite you in los glúteos. The abolition of slavery in Mexico created a desire on the part of former Americans living in the Mexican province of Texas to want to be free from Mexico because the Texans did not want to free their slaves. By extension, this led to Davy Crockett at the Alamo, the annexation of Texas by the U.S., and the aforementioned Mexican-American War.
So it’s easy to see why Mexicans don’t get all excited about Cinco de Mayo. Even though it was a victory, it was only over the French army, and the history back then is just too darn complicated.
It’s also easy to see how the people of Mexico might be confused about exactly where the border is. Since at one point Mexico reached as far north as the northern edges of California, Nevada, Utah, and Texas; and place names such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Albuquerque, San Diego, San Antonio, and Las Vegas are Spanish; and many of the people in those states speak Spanish, it would be easy to think you are still in Mexico no matter on which bank of a river you are standing.
And given the experience Mexico has had over the years with the United States, you would almost think they would want to build a wall to keep out their neighbors to the north. But way down deep they know it wouldn’t work.