Thursday marks the annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo in the United States and parts of Mexico.
South of the border around Puebla, millions of Mexicans will gather in plazas to watch parades and dress up in battalion gear to reenact moments from Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Throughout the United States, Americans will don silly sombreros and outfits, and take to their local Mexican bars and restaurants to drink margaritas.
There’s quite a discrepancy between the celebrations.
“Puebla culture is so beautiful, and it is lost in this commercialization of Cinco de Mayo,” Estefania Mondragon, executive director of PODER of Idaho, told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday.
PODER (Protecting Our Dreams and Empowering Resilience) of Idaho is a Boise-based organization that focuses on helping Latinx and immigrant communities in Idaho.
“The bravery that was fought in the Battle of Puebla, that is not commemorated at all,” Mondragon said.
The Battle of Puebla
There’s a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s independence day — similar to July 4 in the US — and is celebrated throughout the country.
But in reality, it is observed primarily in the Puebla region of east-central Mexico.
In 1862, Mexico was forced to default on debt payments to several European governments after decades of internal strife — partly due to severe financial crises resulted from the Mexican Reform War — left it owing tens of millions of dollars to other governments.
Britain, Spain and France sent naval forces to Mexico, demanding repayment. Although Mexico negotiated with Britain and Spain, who withdrew their forces, France saw it as an opportunity and landed 6,000 troops on the nation’s shores.
The French forces set out to attack Puebla, where a battalion of 2,000 Mexican troops held back the French army on May 5, 1862. Fewer than 100 Mexicans were killed during the battle, according to History.com, while the French lost more than 500 soldiers before retreating.
The French eventually gained control of the Mexican government in June 1863 before losing power in 1867. But the Battle of Puebla proved a significant rallying point for the people of Mexico in the Franco-Mexican War.
In American interests, the French loss at Puebla in 1962 delayed France’s conquest of Central America by a year, giving Abraham Lincoln’s Union generals enough time to win decisive victories before the French could assist the Confederacy, according to historians.
“It’s interesting that the people from the US celebrate this victory, because actually, it did benefit the US quite a bit,” Mondragon said.
Cinco de Mayo in America
When Mondragon walks through downtown Boise on Cinco de Mayo, she said she cringes seeing people in sombreros and even fake mustaches.
“It leads to a caricature of who we are as a people in our culture,” Mondragon said. “Because, you know, if you go to Mexico, people aren’t dressed like that.”
Mondragon said that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the US because of immigration from the Puebla region, and it became a way for those Mexicans to celebrate their heritage. It soon caught on throughout the country “as a holiday where folks go out and drink. ”
The commercialization of Cinco de Mayo — such as alcohol companies using the holiday to sell their product and bars sporting drink specials — has led to the holiday’s roots being lost upon Americans, Mondragon said.
“We see that American businesses see it as a time to also sell our food, yet they’re not giving back to our people,” Mondragon said. “The people that are making the food in the back of the kitchen, those are the people that should be celebrating Cinco de Mayo, yet it’s American people that are celebrating it.
“Which is fine if it’s a sharing of culture,” she continued, “but when it’s just kind of a way to make money, that’s when it kind of just lost its sentiment.”
Cinco de Mayo cultural events in Boise
Mexicans are starting to reclaim Cinco de Mayo in America, Mondragon said. For her, that involves the Latinos Unidos Conference at the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho on Thursday.
The conference, presented by PODER of Idaho, runs from 9:30 am to 4 pm and aims to highlight policy advocacy to improve education outcomes and build economic prosperity in Idaho for the Latinx community.
Former Idaho Education News reporter Sami Edge, Hispanic Cultural Center director Alejandro Cerna Rios and Antonio Hernandez, civic engagement coordinator at Conservation Voters for Idaho, are keynote speakers.
“We are taking this chance of Cinco de Mayo, which is seen as a holiday where folks go out and drink, to actually turn it on its face,” Mondragon said. community together, coming together to talk policy that would benefit our communities. ”
The Hispanic Cultural Center will also be hosting a bake sale in the parking lot of its building at 315 Stampede Drive in Nampa on Saturday. Other local businesses will be present at the event, a spokesperson for the center told the Statesman, and there will be art sales and food trucks.
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This story was originally published May 4, 2022 1:33 PM.