Written by: Tom Sullivan
The first American Cinco de Mayo celebration took place on… the 27th of May.
News traveled slow in 1862, especially in the vast American west. From the battlefield in Puebla, it took twenty-two days for the news to cross the Rio Grande, travel up the coast, and reach the small mining town of Columbia, California. The news was shocking: Outnumbered Mexican forces had defeated the powerful French army in the Battle of Puebla. For the Latino miners living in California, it was just what they needed to hear. The rebel spirit of Mexico was alive and well.
In the years prior, thousands of Mexican miners had traveled to California to join the gold rush. However, in a land that had only recently belonged to them, they were treated as hostile foreigners by the Anglo settlers competing for resources. The news of the May 5th victory brought with it a fierce Mexican pride. The miners spent the night drinking, singing songs, even firing their guns in the air in honor of the French defeat.
It was America’s first Cinco de Mayo. A celebration of victory in battle? Absolutely. But also a celebration of the Mexican identity in the face of discrimination. It was important in 1862. One hundred and sixty years later, it’s just as important today.
Many Americans are surprised to learn that Cinco de Mayo is primarily an American holiday. While it’s celebrated in the state of Puebla, it’s not a national holiday in Mexico. In fact, the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world takes place in Los Angeles.
Some may think that because of this, the holiday is less “authentic”. However, this celebration of the Chicano identity is what makes it so special. For millions of Mexican-Americans, it commemorates not just the Battle of Puebla, but the entire history of their people. And it allows them a chance to celebrate their culture, while sharing it with each other and their neighbors and friends of different ethnic backgrounds.
So before you pour your first margarita this Cinco de Mayo, take a moment to think about the significance of the holiday, and the Mexican-American men and women who were able to rise above adversity, and embody the rebel spirit here in the United States.
This 5th of May, we at Nosotros welcome you to have a drink with us… just remember why you’re pouring it.