Cinco de Mayo – Why is it Celebrated in the US?

Last weekend many Americans have celebrated Cinco de Mayo – referred to by many, apparently incorrectly, as the Mexican Independence day. As an immigrant, I am perplexed by the event.

Sure, Mexican Americans (as all Americans) have every right to celebrate whatever they want.  The weird thing to me is that anyone wants to celebrate any state holiday of a country they left behind. I escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia to America. It would seem pretty stupid to me to celebrate any Czech state holidays – I celebrate American holidays. When I looked around the Internet for an explanation, I came across www.history.com, where I found the following information:

First, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican 4th of July. The Mexican Independence day is celebrated on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s defeat of the French in 1862, at the Battle of Puebla, one of the battles that took place during Franko-Mexican war. According to www.history.com, Mexico (which was in financial ruins) defaulted on debts to Europe. France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Mexico to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain settled with Mexican government, but France went to war over the issue.

Interestingly, not all Mexican provinces even celebrate the holiday – so why is it so popular in the U.S.? History.com reports that the holiday, which eventually evolved to be a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, was made popular in the U.S. by “Chicano activists… in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla.”

Even after the history.com’s lesson, I am still perplexed why would someone who has chosen to move to the U.S. because evidently the life is better here, be celebrating a battle over unpaid debt that happened in their country of origin 150 years ago?

I am not suggesting that Mexican Americans (just like any other Americans) should not stand up for their rights. I am questioning why anyone would want to associate their fight for equal rights with a foreign country, whose treatment of all of its citizens, not just minorities, is undeniably horrible. Is it not the reason why the Mexican American’s families migrated here in the first place? It’s like me coming to the U.S. from a communist country and organizing communist May Day parade. Someone of Mexican origin, could you please offer a comment with an explanation?

What seems even weirder to me is that American cities across the nation put up huge events to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and that many Americans of all backgrounds embrace the holiday – at least as an excuse to get smashed.

Not all celebration is done in a good taste, as demonstrated by some students at UC Davis last week. But when it is not, authorities move quickly to “remedy” the situation. According to Sacramento Bee’s May 2nd article, a Mexican-themed drinking party was promoted by employees of the student-run Coffee House at UC Davis and dubbed Cinco de Drinko. The Facebook page for the event reportedly included a photograph of four male students, wearing sombreros, trying to hop a chain-link fence while two female students in Border Patrol attire smile.

The event sparked a swift demonstration by Latino students, calling for a boycott of the cafeteria. The party was quickly condemned by the university leadership who said that the name “Cinco de Drinko” had strong racial connotation. The demonstrators told the Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi they felt unsafe on campus. Katehi vowed to use education to prevent similar controversies in the future, suggesting that instructional requirements could be changed to mandate a diversity course.

The event is presented as a proof of racism in America, not as a proof of how far Americans are willing to bend over backward to make sure nobody feels offended. Think about it. A few students made a bad joke, so Katehi’s solution is to force thousands of future UC Davis students, who played no part in the event, to take a diversity course. Is that what a country insensitive to its immigrants does?

I am an immigrant. Americans, please do not waste the resources your country cannot spare – and in my opinion should not have to spare – on protecting me from some of your citizens’ jokes or comments I may find offensive. My life is much better because you allow me to stay here, even with some of you making fun of me.

Thank you.

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