Cinco de Mayo, or … Telling the French to Step Off

For better or for worse, Cinco de Mayo — like Saint Patrick’s Day — has become one of what NPR writer Linton Weeks calls America’s “Alcoholidays”: those holidays that have become “widely celebrated by people who have no ties to the traditions they spring from” through the festive adoption of national colors and costumes, and the excessive consumption of national alcoholic beverages.

Think about it. What would Saint Patrick’s Day in America be without the least Irish of us parading about in green while swilling Irish whiskey and chasing it with dyed beer? What would Cinco de Mayo in America be without the least Mexican of us shooting tequila while sporting a sombrero? Everyone has an opinion about whether the “mainstreaming” of such holidays is a good thing or bad thing, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day. Spending this Cinco de Mayo in France, the big question for me today (putting aside my “least Mexican”-ness) was whether I could — or should — be celebrating it here … in FRANCE.

I’d wager that most Americans who are off imbibing great quantities of José Cuervo today haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re commemorating. Contrary to popular misconception, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That’s September 16, the day when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest in the town of Dolores, announced the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 (“El Grito de Dolores” or “El Grito de la Independencia“). On the other hand, Cinco de Mayo marks the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexican Army defeated a superior force of French soldiers.

Wait … the French? The French were in Mexico?

Why, yes. Indeed they were …

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