Today is Cinco de Mayo! It has an important significance this year because of efforts by the US government to “reform” immigration. It has not dampened people’s spirits however and parties are in full swing through the Americas and even in some bars in London. Cinco de Mayo is a special day set aside by the Mexican-American community to celebrate Mexican identity, promote ethnic pride and build a sense of community.
Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of a battle which took place in Puebla in 1862, in which Mexican troops were triumphant over the French army (Napoleon III wanted to conquer Mexico but was surprised by Benito Juarez’s army). Actually Mexicans from Mexico celebrate more on September 16, their independence day, but Americans are usually busy at that time of year and the “diez-seis de septiembre” is not as catchy or as easy to say!! Since before the turn of the century, Mexican Americans literally built the great southwestern cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Albuquerque, Dallas, and San Antonio. California is at the heart of this celebration not only because it used to belong to Mexico in the 19th century but also because a third of the population of California is Hispanic and 84% are of Mexican descent. Because California used to ‘belong’ to Mexico before it became a state, Mexicans commonly refer to California as their “madre patria” which causes friction between the ‘anglos’ and the ‘latinos’. Here’s a map showing ‘Alta California’:
El Camino Real, Spanish for “The Royal Road” or “The King’s Highway” is a 966 kilometer trail also known as the California Mission Trail connecting the 21 missions, 4 presidios and 3 pueblos in upper or “Alta” California. I stretches from San Diego with its Mission San Diego de Alcala to the Mission San Francisco Solano located in Sonoma county in the north. It originated in Baja California Sur at the site of Mision San Bruno in San Bruno which was the first Spanish mission established in “Las Californias”. Unfortunately it’s now in a state of ruins and the Mexican government is trying to sell it. This historic trail is a constant reminder of California’s Spanish and Mexican heritage and those who hike it feel a deeper sense of belonging to the land on which it was traced. One often encounters other streets or roads which are called “El Camino Real” because they run parallel or follow the original trail.
California used to be called “Alta California” by the Mexicans and the inhabitants were called “Californios” or “Californianos”. I grew up with this heritage which is why Mexico almost feels like a second “motherland” to me. A cross marks the place where El Pueblo of Los Angeles was settled and the Angelinos or the residents of Los Angeles put a lot of heart and soul into celebrating this day (a little bit like the Irish-American community do on St. Patrick’s Day, the Chinese on their New Year’s or Oktoberfest for German-Americans and others who like beer!).
But to debunk a few of the myths surrounding ‘Cinco de Mayo’ in North American watch this short video from factXtract:
There are parades, fiestas, mariachi bands playing in the streets, carnival rides, games, dance and art show that last over 2 days. Here we see the parade in San Diego from Multicultural California:
Here’s how San Diegans celebrate in Old Town from CinemaViva (a multi-faceted, full-service HD Video production company located in downtown San Diego).
Of course Mexican food and alcoholic beverages are the highlight of the festivities and no Mexican celebration would be without their signature cocktail the “Margarita” made with the inimitable Mexican liquor: Tequila. If you can’t find a good bottle of tequila where you live, why not order a bottle online? The Best Tequila store that I know of is located in Old Town San Diego and they deliver all around the world: http://www.oldtowntequila.com/ So if you’re getting thirsty just thinking about tequila and margaritas, watch the following video in which “Mixologist” (a more professional name for “bartender”) Eben Freeman, of Tailor restaurant in New York City, demonstrates how to prepare a variation on the classic Margarita cocktail. (A little secret…I use ‘Agave syrup’ instead of super fine sugar. It gives more of an authentic taste…but as they say…”to each his own”!)