Today is Cinco de Mayo. It’s actually a fairly minor Mexican holiday that’s become a commercial holiday in the US.
But this date, means so much more to me.
I’m a 5th generation American, Mexican by descent. We celebrated everything American – 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc. My dad and little brother are US military vets. We also happened to celebrate many things Mexican.
Growing up in Texas, our parents were intent on keeping our culture in tact. We were mostly bilingual, our parents talked to us in Spanish all the time. We speak the language, maybe not perfectly, but we do. We listen and dance to Spanish music – Tejano and regional Mexican music. I even danced Folklorico, the traditional Mexican dance with the big skirts and the block heels. My sisters and I all had Quinceaneras, traditional Mexican 15th birthday parties – think Sweet 16, but with the budget of a wedding. It was our introduction as young women to society.
Our family (still) makes the best Mexican food – tacos and burritos and enchiladas and menudo. And at one point, my parents even had three chihuahuas!
I have always joked that we aren’t all that Mexican…until we are. Lol.
Don’t get me wrong. We were raised just as American as we were Mexican. We ate McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. We hung out at the mall. We danced to top 40 and hip hop and Country. While I was listening to Vicente Fernandez and Los Tigres del Norte, I was also listening to Michael Jackson, Def Leppard, Prince and Whitney Houston, Selena and Metallica, La Mafia and Debbie Gibson, George Strait and David Lee Garza.
My radio career has even been both English and Spanish!
Twice every year, we celebrated being Mexican. From the time I can remember, my family would have a small game booth at these local Mexican Fiestas – festivals, parties, good times!
We had a booth at the Diez y Seis de Septiembre Fiestas and at the Cinco de Mayo Fiestas. You’ll learn more about both in a bit.
We had the Wheel of Fortune – put down a quarter on a number. Spin the wheel. If your number wins, you get a stuffed animal. We saved stuffed animals all year long just for these two weekends.
We also made and sold cascarones – or confetti eggs. These are confetti-filled egg shells traditionally cracked on loved ones’ heads. You usually find them during holidays (Easter is a big one!) and other celebrations, like birthdays.
Now, just for the record, when I say we made and sold them, we literally made and sold them. We saved every single egg shell throughout the year from eggs we ate. In hindsight, we ate a lot of eggs. Lol. We had a way to open the eggs carefully and then we’d wash and dry the shells. When it came time and Fiesta was around the corner, we’d spend days dying the eggs, filling them with confetti and sealing them shut. We didn’t use glue, we used flour/water and tissue paper, like paper mache. Yeah, old school.
All of us worked the booth. My mom. My dad. My sisters. Even me and my little brother. From morning til midnight or 2am, we were there. Working. Playing. Dancing.
Before I go any further, let’s talk about the real reason Cinco de Mayo is celebrated.
It is not, as is sometimes assumed, Mexican Independence Day, but rather the celebration of a military victory.
What most people refer to as Mexican Independence Day is Diez y Seis de Septiembre (16th of September). This is the day that Hidalgo issued the Grito de Dolores (Cry for the city of Dolores) which called for the end of Spanish rule in 1810. This date now marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month.
So, what’s Cinco?
On May 5th in 1862, Mexican forces defeated the French in a small battle at Puebla. While the battle was small, it was a significant win for Mexico and changed the course of Mexican history.
Cinco de Mayo is now mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla in Mexico.
The holiday became more popular in the US as commercialism tied popular Mexican beer and liquor to the celebration.
We always celebrated Cinco. Always. There was always a Cinco de Mayo parade. It would end at the festival grounds for the big Cinco de Mayo Festival weekend. The whole weekend would be full of bands and dancing and amazing food. (Sound familiar?) We celebrated our culture with flags and dancing and music and everything in between.
We would work our little booth and sell those eggs. We would be so exhausted at the end of it. My mom, my dad, sisters, brother. Always all of us.
And even though we busted our behinds, we always managed to squeeze in some fun.
I remember those weekends like they were yesterday. So much fun and laughter. I grew up during those weekends. I learned to dance on those dance floors. I eventually performed on those stages. It was where I learned to count money and how to upsell – “how about five for $1?” It’s where my friends and I hung out and lived and loved.
I remember having such wonderful times with my parents. Learning to dance with my dad. Watching my mom hustle her little booth. Enjoying our family and our friends and good music and great weather.
I remember all the food – tacos and gorditas and elote (Mexican corn on the cob), the aguas fescas, or fresh fruit drinks, later cold beer and margaritas. Our own version of Festival Food!
Looking back on past memories, I see that I still, always, celebrate Cinco. It might just be an excuse to eat tacos or drink margaritas and tequila, but deep down, I know that celebrating the day, not only keeps those ties to my culture and keeps that going for my daughter, but even more so, it brings back such wonderful memories for me. Memories I am so grateful to have.
For me, Cinco is about so much more. It’s about working hard. It’s about having fun. It’s about friends. It’s about family.
The tacos are just a bonus!!
Happy Cinco de Mayo, y’all!!