My Cinco-ized history lesson

I’ve always thought Cinco de Mayo was dumb. Like a plastic, artificial “holiday” which gives Americans a chance to get drunk and eat Kraftian nachos and Mexicans a chance to act like morons. In fact, just 10 minutes ago, a big truck drove by blasting some brassy Mexican music for the whole neighborhood to hear.

People are such sheep. Press the trigger and up they leap like eager, well-trained consumers ready to celebrate and act out because they have been conditioned to do since it’s “that” day.

In my drinking heyday, I rarely drank merely because it was Cinco de Mayo. I didn’t give a crap about it. I knew very little about the significance of the day. I drank on my own schedule, I didn’t follow the leader when it came to this.

Except one time. I drank a lot (I believe it was a Wednesday which was my normal drinking day, anyhow) and as I drove home on Rosemead Boulevard, I fell asleep or passed out at the wheel! I woke up when I ran into and over a traffic sign. The next morning my car had some hood damage and a cracked window. I made up a grandiose story to my parents about some road debris I had run over. I’m sure they believed my story. Sure they did.

Cinco de Mayo is dumb and I thought it was a minor commemoration of a battle between the Mexicans and the French, and that the celebration was commandeered by the commercial American interests who saw it as a vehicle to create an unofficial holiday during which their product would see a tremendous spike in sales. Which it is, to a point.

I’ve been admittedly remiss in making the effort to learn more about this historical significance of Cinco de Mayo. Easier to dismiss it as “dumb.” After some cursory investigation and reading, such as this article which appears on CNN’s site, the broader context of the Battle of Puebla which took place on May 5, 1862 becomes clearer.

It is interesting to note how the American roots of the Cinco de Mayo observance drew much of their motivation from the ongoing American Civil War. In the May 5 battle, the Mexican Army, outnumbered and severely outmatched by the French troops, nevertheless defeated the stronger army during its attempted Mexican conquest. One theory has it that the French invasion of Mexico during this period was part of larger strategy undertaken by Napoleon III to ally itself with and support the Confederacy in its war with the Union, an enemy of France. Mexico was the ideal location for the French forces to stage such a continuous ongoing military support of the Southern Confederate army. The French defeat at the hands of the Mexicans at the Battle of Puebla stalled the French strategy long enough for the Union to eventually triumph in the American Civil War. Within a year, the French troops returned to finish the job they could not complete one year earlier, but by then the Union had begun to overpower the Confederacy.

Sometimes it only take a little knowledge to appreciate the import of something you are ready to ascribe to trite brainless indulgence. Now go party.