Cinco de Mayo: Then and Now…

The Battle of Puebla_ May 5th, 1862_a nineteenth century etching

San Xavier del Bac Mission, founded in 1692 by Spanish Jesuits_Tucson, Arizona_a novelty photograph from around 1900

Actress Lupe Velez, 1930s

Luz Vasquez dancing on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall_Cinco de Mayo, 1943

ZP_Jose Limon_modern dancer and choreographer_1940sJosé Limón, modern dancer and choreographer_1944

Ricardo Montalbán, 1940s

César Chávez, 1940s

ZP_genio_pionero de la musica estereofonica_Juan Garcia EsquivelPioneer-genius of Stereophonic music_Juan García Esquivel

César Chávez speaking at a United Farm Workers Rally in 1974_Sí, Se Puede_Yes, It CAN be done!

Rock guitarist and singer Carlos Santana


Cinco de Mayo (The Fifth of May) refers to the date in 1862 of The Battle of Puebla.  When Mexican and French troops clashed outside the town of Puebla it was a crucial event in The Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).  France had invaded México over nonpayment of loan debts but President Napoleon III had imperial designs on México as well.  The opposing forces were far from evenly matched – yet México won the Battle and this victory became the turning point in the War.


Cinco de Mayo in the USA is not really about The Battle of Puebla – it’s about all things Mexican in “America” – and about all things Mexican-American.  In states such as California and Texas – whose very names derive from Spanish and Náhuatl (Aztec) words – and whose territories had been part of “New Spain” (later México) up until the 1840s – Cinco de Mayo can be a holiday akin to St. Patrick’s Day – good times, plus food and drink for all – but the day is also a flashpoint for political activism.  In 2012, Mexican-Americans are by now integral to U.S. society, and they have leapt many hurdles, establishing themselves successfully.

Yet the bar has been raised – and in a sinister manner…In 2010, Arizona SB70 – the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act – gave that state’s police discretionary power to stop people on the street based on suspicion of “being illegal”.  Both widely supported and denounced, the law is extremely problematic.  And in April 2012, the Tucson School Board voted to discontinue its Mexican-American studies programme – lauded as having an integrating effect on all students – by pandering to fears about the Hispanicization of Arizona.   Whatever may be the outcome of these worrying developments, one thing is clear:   Mexican-Americans – and there are 32 million of them, representing 10 percent of the population –  are full of energy and spirit.  They have built, and will build – just like other Peoples – the future of The United States of America.


José Gutierrez, U.S. soldier killed in Iraq_memorial portrait by Xicana poet-artist, Ana Castillo

Mariachi Ellas Son performing in Los Angeles_Cinco de Mayo 2011

“Being Mexican-American is hard.  We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans, and more American than the Americans.  Both at the same time — it’s exhausting!”

Cinco de May hoy día_Bellas Chicas en Rosa