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 …

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

“Give me your tired, your poor …

… Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

— Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

It was Saturday afternoon and I was racking my brain for an idea for my next blogpost. The pressure was mounting since I try to post at least twice a week and the last post was on Wednesday … and then I Skyped with my mom.

“Did you see the Statue of Liberty celebrations?”

“Um. No. What was that about?”

“Yesterday was her 125th birthday.”

Voilà ! Merci maman !

It’s hard to think of a more iconic symbol of the United States than the Statue of Liberty. From postage stamps to commemorative coins to old New York state license plates to television and films, it is an unmistakable image that evokes America. Almost everyone knows that the statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, but the details of the story are always more fuzzy once we leave grade school. And most Americans aren’t aware that, right here in Paris, we have our very own replica one fourth the size of the original in New York. It was made by the sculptor using one of his design moulds and was presented to the city of Paris in 1889 by the American community living here to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. Just this afternoon, I ventured out to the Île aux Cygnes, a narrow island in the Seine just downriver from the Eiffel Tower, to take a look at the replica for the very first time.

La Statue de la Liberté, Île aux Cygnes © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved
La Statue de la Liberté, Île aux Cygnes © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Having been inspired by my little afternoon excursion, I came home to finish up this post, the backstory of Lady Liberty’s 21-year voyage from idea to icon.

Continue reading “Give me your tired, your poor …