Cinco de Mayo is upon us once again.
As a Mexican-American, I’m astounded by the way this holiday became so important in the United States. How and why it is so important is partly found in to whom it is so important.
I discovered that making money on this holiday is a big thing – good old fashion capitalism is found in this holiday, just as with the 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s all about the all-mighty dollar, not Mexico or Mexican-American cultural identity, or history.
Let’s put things in perspective.
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln had a lot to worry about. The country was on the verge of self-destruction by its own hand. During that same time, France, Spain and England rushed troops into Mexico, wanting to collect on mounting debts.
Eventually, the representatives of Spain and England came to an agreement with Mexican President Benito Juarez and went home. However, Napoleon Bonaparte III took the French on a different path and marched 4,500 of his soldiers toward Mexico City.
What really happened on Cinco de Mayo.
On May 5, 1862, the 4,500 French troops got about 100 miles east of Mexico City. The Mexican government had tabs on the progress of the French troops, and knew that they would have to take a pause in a little known town, called Puebla. President Juarez scraped up about 2,000 soldiers and townsmen to run interference against the French army. Like many resistance forces defending their homeland against invading armies, they fought off the French with a little help from the weather, and a lot of help from the local Indians.
After the La Batalla de Puebla victory against the French, Mexicans nationwide became inspired, and from that day forward, it was celebrated as Cinco de Mayo.
The Americanization of a Mexican Holiday.
Americans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in 1863 Today many Americans think that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day. That’s wrong. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810.
So the question remains; how did La Batalla de Puebla become a holiday in the United States?
During the 1950s and 1960s “The Good Neighbor Policy” was supposed to build a better relationship between Mexico and the United States. This policy translated into a bonanza for U.S. corporations through a massive advertising campaign to commercialize the holiday as a celebration of cultural pride for the Mexican-Americans and all other U.S. citizens associated with Mexico.
In the early 1980s, Cinco de Mayo took a drastic change when commercialization shifted its meaning from community and self-determination to a drinking holiday. According to Jose Alamillo, professor of ethic studies at Washington State University in Pullman, American corporations, particularly those selling alcohol, grabbed the holiday. It is the biggest sales day for Corona beer, emulated on TV and radio by Mexican rivals such as Tecate. They were eager to tap into the expanding Hispanic population in the United States. Anheuser-Bush picked Cinco de Mayo to launch its new Bud Light line. At the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Atlanta sponsors include State Farm Insurance and Hyatt Hotels.
Advertising has become the force behind most American celebrations, including Cinco de Mayo. In 1980, corporations spent close to $25 million on Cinco de Mayo promotions in Southern California alone; that jumped to $57 million in 1982.
In 1985, Coors gave $350 million to the national Council of La Raza, the American GI Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizen in exchange for withdrawing their support of a national boycott over its labor practices. In 2003 and 2004, 10 alcohol brands spent close to $160 million to advertise on Spanish-language television, exposing Hispanics in the United States between the ages of 12 and 20 to 20 percent more alcohol advertising per capita than any other group.
There’s a touch of genius in all this advertisement for a minor historical celebration in Mexico. Realistically, the emphasis should be on the Mexican Batalla de Puebla and the coming together of a community in defense of their nation, not on a corporate-sponsored drinking day, and making money off a relatively minor battle.
An estimated 45-50 million Mexicans live in the United States today and pump a trillion dollars into the economy every year, according to a recent KCBS radio program.
Today Cinco de Mayo festival can be found in at least 21 states in the United States. Clearly, they celebrate Cinco de Mayo for capitalistic reasons, not for the Mexican victory against the French.
Cinco de Mayo is upon us once again.