05 May 2010

Cinco de Drinko Revisited

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Cinco de Mayo origin and celebration. I decided to repeat my post of 2008 for those who may have missed it.

What started out in the United States as a celebration of pride for the Mexican people has been turned into a celebration of alcohol thanks in large part to the three biggest domestic beer companies; Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller (an
d also Jose Cuervo Tequila). Because of their scramble to sell products, Cinco de Mayo has become one of the top sales periods of the year for the alcohol industry. The commercialization of Cinco de Mayo started because Coors Brewing Company wanted to improve its image among Hispanics. In the 1960’s Mexican Americans began boycotting Coors because under the leadership of the far right wing conservative Joseph Coors the company had been discriminating against workers on account of race. The Coors brewing Company was finally charged in 1969 with racial discrimination and found guilty a year later. You remember the late Joseph Coors don’t you? He was a founding member of the ultra conservative far right think tank known as the Heritage Foundation. He not only provided the funds for a building to house the organization but he donated $250,000 to cover its first year budget as well. He was also a also member of Ronald Reagan's millionaires club “kitchen cabinet” and helped finance Reagan's political career as governor of California and U.S. president. His own brother once said that he was farther to the right than Atilla the Hun.

In 1985 the National Council of La Raza, the American GI Forum, and later the League of United Latin Americans Citizens signed an agreement with the Coors Brewing Company to stop the long-standing boycott of Coors Beer in exchange for more than $350 million in donations to Latino organizations. That is when alcohol sales first started to overshadow the pride of the people. When Coors and the Latino organizations began cozying up to one another they both saw a gleam in each other’s eye. Not wanting to be left behind, Anheuser-Busch and Miller soon followed suit and now the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) (among others) receive lots of money from the alcohol industry. Sure, the money does some good things. Budweiser gives millions of dollars in donations to the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the Coors provides money for videos and literacy classes for Mexican immigrants, and Miller sponsors the Mexican National Soccer Team and various educational programs. However, The damage caused by alcohol in the Latino community is a terrible and growing problem. Such a health crisis by any other cause in any other community would be labeled a catastrophe and politicians would make it a major issue. The problem is that the alcohol industry is strong and the Latino community is politically weak, especially now because of the illegal immigration issue, so nobody says much about the increasing alcohol addiction and abuse in the Latino community. There may be a few alcohol-free Cinco de Mayo events, but the vast number of celebrations are still “Drinko” de Mayo.

The truth is that Cinco de Mayo has been promoted by alcohol advertising into a major holiday like Mexican Independence Day but in Mexico Cinco de Mayo it is not a major holiday at all. It's mainly celebrated in the City of Puebla, where it commemorates the Mexican army's defeat of French invaders on May 5, 1862. The real Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16, 1810, when a priest from the city of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, began the fight for independence from Spain. That war continued until Sept. 27, 1821, when the treaty of Córdova was signed that recognized Mexican independence and established a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy lasted only until Dec. 1, 1822, when Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana rose up to proclaim the republic. In 1824, the Constitutional Congress established the Mexican Democracy. The first years of democracy were very difficult and the fledgling Mexican democracy certainly didn’t receive any help from the United States. When the Mexican government began placing restrictions on Anglo settlers coming to its Texas territory and prohibited slavery, the Americans living in Texas declared independence from Mexico. By 1845, after nearly ten years of sovereignty, Texas became a part of the United States. In an effort to gain more land and resources, the United States began the Mexican-American war in 1846 under the ambitious president James Polk, and by 1848 more than half of the land that is the current American Southwest had been taken from Mexico. After the 1846 Mexican-American War, Mexico entered a period of great political and financial hardship. In 1861 Mexican president Benito Juárez was obligated to suspend payments on debts owed to Spain, England, and France and these three nations made preparations to invade Mexico to recoup their losses. England and Spain accepted offers to negotiate repayment of the debt but France under Napoleon III did not and France opted to try and take over Mexico while the U.S. was involved in the Civil War.

France sent a large force to invade Mexico at Veracruz and it came to pass that on May 5, 1862 an army under the command of French General Carlos Fernando Latrille, Conde de Lorencez, came head to head with a rag tag Mexican army under command of General Ignacio Zaragoza and his mix of career army officers, a handful of Mexican army regulars, peasant farmers, and Zacapuaxtlas Indians. By the end of the battle there were 476 Frenchmen dead and 345 wounded. The Mexicans had only 83 dead and 130 wounded even though the French outnumbered them more than two to one. The extraordinary thing about the battle was that the French, who had one of the best trained and best equipped armies in the world, were defeated by a much smaller force of poorly trained and poorly equipped Mexicans. What made the difference? Much has been written by military historians about the details of the battle so there is no need to go into it here. However, the arrogance of the French and their disdain for the Mexicans was countered by the humility, perseverance, and pride of the Mexicans. It is just another case of David versus Goliath. The French eventually won all the rest of the battles by sheer force and installed their puppet Emperor, Maximilian. By then, however, the Northern U.S. Army had grown to a size and strength that made it inadvisable for the French to aide the Confederacy. The Mexicans had kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for more than a year, thus allowing the United States Union Army to smash the Confederates at Gettysburg 14 months after the battle of Puebla, which essentially ended the Civil War. Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French.
Well, whatever became of Zaragoza? After his famous victory the heroic General Ignacio Zaragoza was visiting his sick and injured soldiers and he contracted typhus fever and died at the age of 33. Some historians say that Texas born Ignacio Zaragoza should be considered an American hero as well as a Mexican hero for delaying the French and preventing them from aiding the Confederate army. I say, ¡Viva México!, ¡Viva Zaragoza!, ¡Viva America!, ¡Viva Cinco de Mayo!

15 comments:

Gloria said...

Yes I do remember this from last year. We don't celebrate. We just know that the words cinco de mayo means something to do? :DD Whatever. Hope you are well and Gina too. It's a beautiful day today and husband is outside getting ready to lay cement for a foundation for the shed he is building. I better go see if he needs any help. Tee Hee.

Sharon said...

This is true, too, of St. Patrick's Day, which was never more than a religious holy day in Ireland until fairly recently.

Is it any worse for an American to go out and a have a few Negra Modelos with friends on Cinco de Mayo than it is to pretend you're Irish and drink Guinness on St. Patrick's Day?

Nothing wrong with inventing an excuse for a good party, IMO.

Bob Mrotek said...

Gloria,
Aw what the heck! Go ahead and celebrate :)

Sharon,
Better Negra Modelo than Coors!
¡Salud! :)

Leslie Limon said...

I say, "Viva Bob!" :)

My hubby didn't realize that today was Cinco de Mayo until 5pm. He then said that he kind of misses the big hoopla that the U.S. makes of this holiday. :)

Feliz Cinco de Mayo to you and Gina! :)

Amanda said...

Wow I always wondered why it became such a big deal in the states. Thanks I must have missed this post last year.

Calypso said...

It is 'common' knowledge that this is a much more celebrated event in the U.S. than Mexico save perhaps Pueblo.

Here on the east coast of Mexico or more specifically in the Xalapa, Veracruz area the school kids are marched through the streets in their uniforms and with their bands. I prefer the drinking festivals in the U.S. - but don't really miss them because there is NO shortage of festivals here in Mexico ;-)

Alice said...

The Coors story would make a dramatic Hollywood movie.

In Texas schools, we use Cinco de Mayo as a day to celebrate Mexican heritage, and I think the holiday is gaining momentum as such. The ballet folklorico groups dance, we eat tamales, drink horchata, and bleed red, green, and white all day. It would be more appropriate on the 16th of September, but the patterns been set and the rest is history.

Leah Flinn said...

I remember watching a documentary about the Coors company's role in intoxicating the holiday...maybe it was the history channel.

No recognition of the holiday was seen here in the port city of Veracruz, just another work day for most.

Maru64 said...

Bob:
Una borrachera multitudinaria..! how do you traslate it?.., that's what 5 de mayo means to mexican inmigrants.
For us, here in Mexico the meaning is "Un Puente"
-april 30th, dia del niño
-may 1st, labour's day
-2nd puente
-3rd holy cross (alabañiles day)puente
-4th puente
-5th Batalla de Puebla.
Many fiestas....., little productivity.

Fe de errata:
The first man is Porfirio Díaz, not Conde de Lorencez.(Look up with Mr. Google.)

Bob Mrotek said...

Maru,
I think you are right. Thanks for pointing that out. Now I must find a picture of Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez. You wouldn't happen to have one would you?

Goyo said...

Excellent article overall, Bob, and very informative. But I wonder why you made such a point about Joseph Coors' politics? I think the only people who would have a problem with the Heritage Foundation are those at least as far to the left as you indicate Coors was to the right. (To the left of Chairman Mao, perhaps?)

I suspect that had Coors been a liberal along the lines of Michael Moore, his negative impact on the latino community would have been pointed out without reference to his politics.

Great article otherwise, and worthy of a bookmark.

Bob Mrotek said...

Goyo,
I have no desire to offend anyone regarding something as woebegone as politics but I have been following the Coors story since about 1971. It's under my skin and it peeks out once in awhile. You are right. If it wouldn't have been Coors it would have been somebody else. I am not a Liberal to the degree that Michael Moore is. I think he is rather silly. However, I will tell you that I am at least a Liberal to the degree that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are and I pray for them every day. Thank you for your kind commentary.

Karen said...

I am so late reading this, but as usual it was worth going back for. I knew the story of the Battle of Puebla but had never before seen the correlation between the French/Mexican War and the French not joining in the American Civil War. Thank you so much for all your research. I don't know how many times you have added great depth to my shallow knowledge of Mexico and the world, and new vigor for learning even more.

And thanks for the background on Coors, I am of that generation, but come from a none drinking family and some how missed it when it happened. (Can't boycott what you don't use, I think we were boycotting Nestle's at the time. lol) And I know many who are middle-of-the-road (I even know some Republicans, omg) and they have problems with the Heritage Foundation and many other groups like them.

I am not Catholic so I won't cross myself, but many blessings of God for you and your lovely wife, Gina.

Anonymous said...

That's a young Porfirio Diaz on the left, not the Comte de Lorencez. Victor M. Carrera

Anonymous said...

Fixed! VMC

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.