Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Today was Cinco de Mayo. While many people say that you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, they also say you don’t need to be Mexican to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. In America, March 17th and May 5th are traditionally two days a year where we get drunk in honor of another country. I’m not saying that this is entirely bad. I too, on St. Patrick’s Day: wore green, ate Irish Stew, drank green beer and Irish carbombs, and passed out on my friend's couch. The next morning, I woke up believing that I thoroughly celebrated the unofficial holiday. But, one thing that always bugged me a bit was not knowing why I was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. So, I looked it up and felt a little better about having celebrated like I did.

I’m not Irish, but I am Mexican. While seeing lots of ads for Guinness around St. Patrick’s Day never bothered me, seeing all the ads for Corona around Cinco de Mayo did set off something in my brain. This feeling was kind of like anger, confusion, and thirst all mixed together. I thought, “Why is Cinco de Mayo all about getting drunk?" And then, “Am I a hypocrite because I drank on St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m not Irish?” And, of course, “I really like to drink, and I’m Mexican. Should I just forget it and go get drunk too?” (For the record, I hate Corona. There are plenty of other tasty beers that come from Mexico. And I appreciate how those other tasty beer companies don’t make cheesy commercials. When I vacation in the tropical paradise of Mexico, you won’t find me lounging with a Corona!) After all of that, I decided that I would not judge myself too harshly. Instead, I would take my pride in my heritage and do whatever I felt like today. This is what I felt like doing...

I did some research on Cinco de Mayo, and found that it is not just a chips-salsa-Corona-Margarita holiday. (I also don’t drink Margarita’s because tequila is like liquid disaster to me.) Technically, it’s not an official holiday at all. Most people actually think it is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. Mexican Independence Day is a highly celebrated holiday in Mexico. Whereas Cinco de Mayo is moderately celebrated in certain parts of the United States by Chicanos. Mexican Independence Day celebrates Mexico’s fight to win independence from Spain, and is celebrated on September 16th annually. On May 5th, 1862, Mexican forces won a battle against French forces in the city of Puebla. Today, Cinco de Mayo honors that victory on Mexico’s behalf. Even though I have celebrated on May 5th in the past, I never knew of the battle that took place in Puebla. Thinking about it more and more, I guessed that many others have not either. But, since I live in a city heavily populated with people who have emigrated from Mexico; I guessed that many other people actually have heard of the Battle of Puebla. Either way, I decided that I wanted to publicly appreciate the people who made Cinco de Mayo possible: the people who fought in the honored battle.

While doing research on the Battle of Puebla, I found some of the names of leaders and generals who were involved in Mexico’s victory. I jotted down the name of Mexican President Benito Juarez, and Generals Ignacio Zaragoza, Felipe Berriozabal, and Porfirio Diaz. I printed out some pictures of these fellows on some glossy photo paper I had at home (only the best for these war heroes). I wrote their names on the front of each photo, took some duct tape, and was off to show some appreciation for making Cinco de Mayo such a popular date.

I thought I should go to some areas of San Jose which have a great Chicano presence, or that have a high amount of bars where people may be celebrating and tape the pictures where they would be seen. My reasoning was that people in the Chicano-populated areas may recognize those pictures and names and take some time to appreciate them, and those on their way to a bar would see them and wonder who they were. I began my journey in East San Jose, and worked my way to Downtown San Jose. What began as another chapter in my Guerilla Media Campaign, ended up being a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Driving around on an undesirably hot day, I found myself around places I had not seen in years. East San Jose was where I grew up, but moved away from around 15 years ago. Driving down familiar streets, I past my cousin’s old apartment building, the place where my grandma used to get her hair done, the high school my mom went to, Lake Cunningham Park where we used to have bbq’s, and eventually, the house I grew up in. It was a great day. After waking up some great memories, I went back to business.

I stopped at Latino Mercado’s on Capitol Rd. and Alum Rock Rd., randomly on San Fernando St. downtown near some bars, and in front of the Dairy Belle on McKee and Story Roads for no reason other than I wanted a milkshake badly. (It was a corn syrup slip-up. I had an Oreo milkshake. It was amazing.)

Cinco de Mayo, 2008 meant remembering those who fought for the country my ancestors came from, and how far my family has come in my lifetime. Guerilla Media aside, I took today to appreciate my heritage and the culture that surrounds it. And, I also drank Pacifico.

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