May 5, 2014


Rooted in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo Flowered in the U.S. (Carl M. Cannon, May 5, 2014, RCP)

California had been admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free state, and the context of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations was the Civil War between North and South. The anti-slavery movement in California had been an alliance of Northern immigrants and local Latinos, and the Battle of Puebla was as emotionally significant to them as the Battle of Bull Run was to Americans living in the East.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo historically was observed only in the state of Puebla. In California, it never really went away. Celebrated originally in places like Old Town San Diego or the sprawling barrio of East Los Angles -- or even the gold country town (now ghost town) of Columbia -- it grew gradually and incrementally. By the late-20th century, Californians visiting Mexico on that day would invariably express surprise that south of the border it wasn't really much of a holiday at all.

As UCLA professor David E. Hayes-Bautista has noted, this raised an obvious question: "Why is it that Latinos in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo so intensely, when it is not celebrated in Mexico?"

The answer, he says, is simple: "Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday -- it is an American Civil War holiday, created spontaneously by Mexicans and Latinos living in California who supported the fragile cause of defending freedom and democracy during the first years of that bloody war between the states."

Posted by at May 5, 2014 2:45 PM

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