US Catholic Faith in Real Life

How to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

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Feliz Cinco de Mayo--the day that US Americans think they're celebrating Mexican independence (that's Sept 16) by drinking Coronas and margaritas.

Or as this article calls it "Gringo de Mayo." Gustavo Arellano argues that the holiday is ridiculous as it celebrates the victory over French troops in one battle, even though Mexico was to lose the war, which ended in a five-year occupation by the French.

Now I appreciate my cultural celebrations as much as anyone, but I have to admit that my knowledge of Mexican history and culture isn't that great. Last week, I got the chance to learn more about our neighbors while traveling to Mexico to celebrate my friend's completion of med school and brush up on our Spanish (she'll be working with a mostly Spanish-speaking population in her residency).

Thankfully my friend is much better at Spanish and also a lot less shy than I am, and she was eager to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone. On our plane the women sitting next to her asked her what resort we were staying at and were shocked to hear that we weren't staying at a resort. "Why would you do that?" they said. "We want to get to know Mexico," she replied.

And that we did. In Guadalajara, we discovered the amazing murals of Jose Clemente Orosco and learned about Mexico's struggles with development, political ideologies, and the roles of church and state. We stayed in the 400-year-old Hotel Frances and ate pan dulce--and I admit that until Arellano's article, I didn't understand what influence the French had on Mexico.

Even at the beach, we learned to cook huevos a la Mexicana (see my friend's food blog) and chatted with a woman on the bus who runs a fair trade coffee project. She told us that Cinco de Mayo was hardly a holiday in Mexico; the first of May, Labor Day, is much bigger.

As I walked down the beach watching families play volleyball and fly kites together on Saturday celebrating their Labor Day, I regretted that in the United States, Mexican Americans would be spending their May Day at immigration rallies rather than at the beach. Perhaps what we all need right now is a vacation (or at least a good Cinco de Mayo fiesta), where we can get a sunnier point of view and learn about and come to love our neighbors.

In other Cinco de Mayo news, thanks to their protest of Arizona's immigration law, I will now be cheering for Los Suns.