Of all the holidays, Cinco de Mayo is one of the strangest. As a holiday for people of Mexican ancestry, it is hardly even known in its home nation. It is a commemoration of a battle which ended an occupation absolutely everyone would otherwise rather forget. Its celebration is more commercial than cultural, coming off as something like St Patrick’s Day with better weather and better food.
But this is as good of a day as any to study the strange relationship between Mexico and the United States. With all of the twists and turns of a telenovela, this story is also one of an extended family with far too much effort wasted fighting.
In just a few days we celebrate a holiday somewhat more popular in the US than in Mexico. That’s just as well because it’s a classic North American kind of holiday in many ways. We are a family, which is why our relationship is so intense and personal at times.
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.
What will it take to Make America Great Again? A big part of it, at least in terms of the public show, is the creation of manufacturing jobs. Of the four words in MAGA, the top two appear to be “America” and “Make”. It’s a noble effort all around, without a doubt.
But can this be done as a matter of policy? Can we turn back evils like bad trade deals and force the products which are consumed in America to be made in America?
Two stories from the opening daze of the Trump administration demonstrate just how unlikely this effort will be. Indeed, it’s entirely possible to cause more damage than good in many ways.
Through this populist uprising standing in for an election, one issue unites all the candidates that are left. Sanders was always against free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton is too, at least now she is. Cruz doesn’t seem to have much time for them, and after years of talking both ways Trump is now firmly against these “bad deals”.
It’s not about TPP or any new trade pacts, either – it’s about (supposed) horrors of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and our current deal with China.
Going over the past is a way to pin down the establishment, which is to say Clinton. But Trump, at least, once to re-negotiate the old deals and turn them back. Was free trade such a bad deal for the US? Is it worth going over old ground?
For all the noise on this issue this year it’s actually not a good issue outside of its value as a populist rallying cry.
With Brazil hosting the World Cup and clearly looking for more from their economy and society, this is a good piece to re-run from last year.
Around the world, two stories have been consistent since 2008 – the developed world is struggling with a depression while the developing world largely charges ahead. The two worlds have never been so far apart as the careen towards similarity. But in this hemisphere, three stories have come to show where it all comes together – how “wealthy” is what a nation feels more than how it is.
Forget how Japan and Europe are wallowing in desperation for a while – on this side of the big ponds things are happening. It may be slower than anyone wants, but change is happening. The reactions to that change show that my favorite saying is still true – that while people are people, cultures are cultures. Wealth, or at least the feeling of wealth, is a state of mind.