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Cinco de Mayo

It started as invasion by France to collect a debt, but the larger and better equipped French invasion force was defeated by a ragged group of Mexicans, some armed with little more than machetes and pitchforks.  The Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 was 150 years ago this Saturday.  It was not decisive, needing a few years before the colorful armies and politicians could sort it all out.  But the victory at Puebla is a story deep at the heart of Mexican character – a determination and toughness that the great continent of North America shares as a very odd, sometimes dysfunctional family.

200 Mexican Pesos

History has been hard on Mexico.  In 1810, Spain was being ravaged by Napoleon and utterly incapable of maintaining order in its sprawling empire.  Something had to be done.  On the 16 September, Father Miguel Hidalgo celebrated Mass with a call for independence.  After a brief war New Spain was left behind and Mexico was born.  It stretched from what is now Oregon to Colombia, sprawling across the underbelly of the continent.  Shortly afterward, the southern section across the jungles of Mayaworld broke away, then fell apart into the smaller states of Central America that still tend to share the same blue/white/blue in their flags.

Unlike its eventual neighbor to the North, the United States of Mexico was founded in a need to create order in a world that was falling apart.  The conflict between a strong centralized government and local control that today tears at the Estados Unidos del Norte today has always been at the core of Mexico.

Creating order from chaos is not something that North Americans, as a people, are known for.  We are perched on a rugged continent, taking care of what we have to as we have to and making the best of opportunities.  Mexico, in particular, has shown a remarkable resilience. The French learned this the hard way when they took control of the central government in Mexico City in 1862.   They could beat Mexico, but it could not be conquered.

Before the sorry dust-up with France, there was the war between two of the brothers that make up North America.  The US-Mexican War ended with the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo in 1848 in which we took about 1/3 of Mexican land for $15 million. That moment defined the border states, all once part of Mexico.  Settled later on by Anglos in from the East seeking opportunity, they now see people up from the South for the same reason.

No matter how many pieces of paper are dictated, signed, and filed the spirit of the people of North America remains the same.  When the going gets tough, the tough pack up and move on.  This is how this rugged land was settled by natives thousands of years ago, and none of us are any different.  Opportunity is what matters.

We all tend to forget the details of wars and battles regardless of which side of the border we find ourselves on.  Within 5 years from the first Cinco de Mayo the US Civil War was settled, the French were firmly kicked out of Mexico, and the UK granted Canada Dominion status (home rule).  The continent passed through adolescence into full citizenship in the world together, leaving behind the embarrassment of our fights.

Since that time, Mexico has grown and at times prospered as waves of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and many other places came to settle there almost as much as they did further North.  It has 100 million people struggling to make sense of their history and determine what it all means to them as one people.  Like any dysfunctional family, they often want to define themselves by their older and wealthier brother who always seemed to be the favored one. “Pity poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States,” is how Porfirio Diaz put it.  History may have been a little harder on Mexico, but that only makes its heart stronger and its heavy burdens that much more bearable.

For all the grand ideas that gave birth to the USofA, our younger brother came into the world with little more than determination and a spirit that cannot be crushed.  These are values at the heart of our family.  We have a lot to celebrate together because as we grow older it becomes more and more clear that we have much more to share than we might have previously thought.

What we have is North American experience, the North American family story.  It doesn’t matter if it is told in English or Spanish or French, and Cinco de Mayo is as good of a day to celebrate it as any.  ¡Salud!

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12 thoughts on “Cinco de Mayo

    • I can’t see it any other way. We’re tied together in ways that we don’t really understand nor appreciate as fully as we should.

  1. I like the idea of Mexico as the troubled middle brother in the North American family. I think it fits us all very well. If only the older brother would meet his family obligations!

  2. Yes, if only we would. That’s why I tell the story this way, I think it can get us to think about our relationship a bit differently – and hopefully move ahead to where we should be.

  3. Many Latinos now live in Minnesota. There was a time –the 1950s, the 1960s and 1970s–when most Minnesota communities were 99% to 97% white. Inter-ethnic diversity was when a Lutheran married a Catholic.
    Governor Wendell Anderson appeared on Time magazine as Minnesota was lauded as a type of heaven on earth. Part of the subtext of the message, however, was that Minnesota was great because it didn’t have the black inner city decay that of St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh had. Few blacks, few ghettos. Minnesota used to be a place where you were expected, even if you were non-White, to know the meaning of uff-da. Everyone seemed to agree that the cold kept the riff-raff. But the riff-raff did come and they came from Chicago. Minnesota for a long time had the reputation as a progressive state. In the last 2 decades, it lost its leading progressive status to Oregon and perhaps Washington. Minnesotans always had an image of themselves as progressive, but the progressivism was more easily achieved in those idyllic decades when few minorities lived in the state.

    By the way has anyone ever questioned portraying a Native American riding off into the sunset on the Minnesota flag. What’s up with that?

    • Let me tell you a story from when I first moved here from Florida. I was in line at Target and a woman came up behind me with a small child that was fussing and whining and being a toddler generally. They also happened to be black. I looked at them and said, “Ma’am, you only have one thing, I can see he wants out of here, you go on ahead.” Her reply was, “Thank you very much – you must not be from around here!”
      I think I knew what she meant.
      I have never identified with white people in Minnesota, despite my pale exterior. I am simply not a member of the club. And I never, not for one moment, thought this place was particularly “Progressive”. Clubby, yes.
      Oh, and the Indian was updated so he’s not riding off into the sunset anymore: http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/Minnesota/stateSEAL.html

  4. thank you for the refresher on Cinco de Mayo. Many people need a reminder that the French ruled Mexico for a period of time and the Mexicans kicked them out. We should take note that “Cinco” is not much of a national holiday in all of Mexico, but is a big deal in the city and state of Puebla.
    I think Cinco does grow in significance in Mexico because of the influence of that big brother, the U. S. A., which has developed the day into a rite of spring.

  5. Pingback: Be Thankful, Not Fearful | Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

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