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Cinco de Mayo: A New American Holiday

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Long misunderstood, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that is increasingly American. Yes, that's right. The history of this holiday is in Mexico, but the future of this holiday is north of the border.

The anniversary of the "Battle of Puebla" on May 5, 1862 commemorates the pride and valor of the Mexican people in response to aggression of a better-equipped and much larger force from France led by Napoleon III. Under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, who served under Mexico's only fully indigenous president, Benito Juarez, the Mexican army defeated a "superior" enemy, who was demanding unreasonable territorial occupation and influence.

Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico, yet during the post-civil rights era in the Southwestern United States, high school and college students of Mexican origin (sometimes referred to as "Chicanos") sought and found a source of pride in their heritage -- often feeling unwelcome in the U.S. and in Mexico. Some confuse the holiday with Mexico's independence from Spain -- which was secured on the 16th of September 1810 and is celebrated by Mexican citizens living in Mexico. North of the border, Mexican Americans feel little need to celebrate independence from Spain and often are ambivalent in their patriotism towards Mexico. In fact, most U.S. residents of Mexican origin fled their home country in search of a lifestyle that their home country could not make available to them. Despite the history of racism and unequal treatment in the U.S., America is much more of a meritocracy than Mexico has ever been. Mexican migrants (legal and illegal) struggle for the American dream and frequently find it, or at the very least find gainful employment to provide for their families and hope for the long-term well-being of their loved ones.

I am living evidence of this fact. My father worked as a "bracero" during World War II when American men were drafted to fight overseas and Mexican workers were recruited to build railroads and harvest fruits and vegetables. After returning to Mexico periodically, my father and mother decided that America was a more welcoming home and a place that held more promise than remaining a member of the middle or underclass in Mexico. In one generation, I have moved from socioeconomic strata SES 'E' to SES 'A' - using Geoscape parlance. It is unlikely that in Mexico I could have achieved a similar result. The path toward success in the U.S. was not always there, many struggled to fight for better treatment at the worksite as well as to gain access to education and capital.

Today, America is home to more than 56 million Latinos of which more than 38 million of the Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican origin. This number is increasing rapidly, as is their buying power and political influence. The American people love to celebrate our rich heritage and this collective heritage is partly in the US-Fifty and partly from where our ancestors emanated. Some examples include St. Patrick's Day and Chinese New Year. So today, I suggest that you join us in celebrating a unique American holiday where you can enjoy the fine food, drink, music and courage of which we Mexican Americans are so proud.

¡A tu salúd!