Happy Underdog Day!
Cinco de Mayo is Battle of Puebla Day, but it might as well be Mexican Pride Day. Customarily, I would begin this installment of fascinating (ymmv) Mexican trivia with the words “As precisely none of you know”*. In this case, however, such a stipulation would be wholly and entirely inaccurate, as every. Single. One of you. Knows. About May the 5th, or “Cinco de Mayo”. The holiday is well-publicized and thus the grumpy hipster salutation is unnecessary. Still, your humble scribe, relentless in his intention of reminding all and sundry that (a) Mexico is an awesome place whose culture and history y’all should know about (b) your humble scribe is thoroughly Mexican and quite proud of the fact, will set fingers to noisy keyboard to tell you a little something about the holiday.
Intermission — Wherein your faithful scribe reminds you that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed.
Some of you may subscribe to the point of view, currently fashionable among certain circles in which men drink beer they brewed themselves and women tattoo their axillae, that Cinco de Mayo is not a quote-unquote “real holiday”. I.e. that it is not observed in Mexico with the same fervor and glee as it is here in the States, especially in California. While I appreciate the attempt at cultural awareness, I have to say that said point of view is little more than transcultural snobbery§. To wit:
Primero, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is the sophomore child in a May calendar front-loaded with holidays, i.e. May 1 (Labor Day), May 5 (Battle of Puebla Day), May 10 (Mothers Day), May 15 (Teachers Day). And that’s just the secular holidays; there are several Catholic feast days that fall in this fortnight and are a big deal at least regionally. May 1 is a national holiday, May 15 is a school holiday, and May 10 has so many required maternal obeisances and obsequies that nobody works anyway. Thus, Mexican lawmakers added a bit of sanity to this stretch by not designating May 5 as a national holiday… lest we have another string of extraofficial idleness like the one in December (the infamous “Guadalupe Reyes”ª). So Cinco de Mayo is not “a big deal” in Mexico…. by choice.
Segundo, why are y’all suddenly sticklers for holidays that are not “a big deal” in their places of origin? I see no horn-rimmed snooty intellectualoid fair-trade-quinoa eaters making snide comments about Saint Patrick’s Day, which is absolutely not a big deal in Éirinn go Brách. People in central Europe don’t go all bananas on Armistice Day anymore, yet in the US the end of World War I is so significant it’s enshrined as Veterans Day, a federal holiday. Yet conversely, other countries (Mexico included) make a yuge deal about May Day, i.e. International Workers Day, a holiday which started in CHICAGO of all places, before Grover Cleveland decided the US wanted no part of that thar soshulisms¤. One must conclude that holidays are fluid living things, they migrate American Gods-style, they are relevant for different people at different times, and ultimately, there’s no such thing as a quote-unquote “real holiday”.
Cinco de Mayo is a real holiday for the people who say it is. And I say it is. You can say it too. So there. Nya.
End of Intermission
Cinco de Mayo is Battle of Puebla Day — it commemorates the battle fought on the outskirts of Puebla, a city in the central highlands of Mexico, on 5 May 1862. In this battle, the Mexican Army (numbering c. 4000 with 16 guns) soundly defeated the invading army of the Empire of France (6000 men, 18 guns). You can read my essay on the military play by play here, but for now, let me just tell you what it all means.
Up until that blessed day in July 2012 in which we won the Olympic gold medal in soccer, Mexico had never won anything. Never beaten anybody. Historically and geopolitically, it had been the whipping boy of every colonial power in the world, France, Spain, England, and yes, the US. So yeah, the fact that we beat the French that one time… big deal.
When the French general at the Battle of Puebla, Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez, first arrived in Mexico, he wired this to Napoleon III: “we are so superior to the Mexicans, in organization, in discipline, race, morals and refinement of our sensibilities, that from this moment, at the head of our 6000 courageous soldiers, I am the master of Mexico.”
Now, we of the Mexico are well-accustomed to a little bit of the hoity-toity from the white man. But that sentence right there? The man was just asking for a butt-kicking². And by golly, we gave him one. A big heaping plate of whoop-ass washed down with a frothy warm mug of STFU.
If you’re ever in Paris, there’s a place called Les Invalides. Worth a visit. This is the place where the French keep all the flags of all the armies it has defeated in battle. The French are great soldiers, so it’s quite an impressive collection, and it used to be bigger… they had over 1400 at one point.
But you know which one they don’t have? THIS ONE:
… the Mexican colors that flew at the Battle of Puebla.
Put that in your refined pipe and smoke it, Froggie.
That’s the “real” Cinco de Mayo — a holiday in which a poor bedraggled nation stands up a little straighter, and remembers what it’s like to meet the schoolyard bully behind the tool shed… and punch him right in the mouth. It should be an international holiday, for the feeling expressed is universal. It would be known as Underdog Day. And we of the Mexico… we’re always the underdogs.
So…. happy Underdog Day.
* I usually mean it in an inoffensive yet ever so slightly accusatory way, as I have oft observed that it is harder for a foreigner living in the US to be ignorant of American culture and history than it is for the native born.
§ Not unlike pretending you know all about Hinduism because you went to Bali and spent a week on the beach naked and stoned.
ª Thus called because it starts on the feast day of the patroness of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe, on December 12, and ends with the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, viz. when the three wise men (alternatively kings, “reyes”) visited the infant Jesus. This time of the year (involving as it does, Christmas, New Year, &c) is one of low productivity, carousing, socializing, and most intemperate eating. And drinking. Oh-dios-mio. So. Much. Drinking.
¤ Although it may make a comeback in Berkeley, CA as “Punch a fascist in the face Day”.
² Especially when offending the refinement of our sensibilities. How dare he.
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