05 May 2008

Cinco de Drinko

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 (and 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!...and to Hell with Coors!!!


Anonymous said...

Just found you, Mexico Bob! I am so excited, and want to read and read. JUST what I've been looking for. I've been listening to "Los Lonely Boys" and getting off on my inner chicana... which takes imagination for this celtic type housewife. Got out a dozen Spanish vocab, grammar, txtbks, Channel 1020 and now I found Mexico Bob!

Bob Mrotek said...

Good for you, Juliet! Just remember the old saying "Be careful what you wish for". Now that you found me I am going to push you to learn :)

Anonymous said...

Large companies making beers for a living, must also consider the fact that alcohol isn't good for the health of their customers. In fact in the recent years, many people have become addicted to alcohol. This dilemma adds more serious issues to the families and friends of the loved one with alcohol problem.

CFM News said...

May I please have your permission to quote you on MySpace and link back to your blog. I have over 16,000 friends on MySpace and my music site gets wide circulation among young people.
It embarrasses me that so many of our young people it is Mexican independence day when we are celebrating May 5th.
Recently some new arrivals from Mexico asked me what May 5th was they had never heard of it! Americans complain that we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and Mexico doesn't celebrate the 4th of July. People need to know that the US did not have a massive alcohol consumption day between March and July and May 5th fit in perfectly. I don't think it is a celebration of Mexican heritage but an exploitation of the culture it represents. I get burn every time I see a beer commercial this time of year.
Please let me know.
Thank you,
Rosalita Moog

Jaime Y Los Gatos Del Norte said...

Hola Bob! I really enjoy reading your blog. It's extremely informative and well researched. I'm learning a ton of great stuff.

I do have one minor correction regarding your post, however. Texas was a sovereign nation for nearly ten years (March 2, 1836 until annexation by the US on December 29, 1845).

As an aside, it was President Tyler who succeeded in getting Congress to pass a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union on February 28, 1845. He signed it into law on March 1, 1845, just three days before the end of his term (thereby stealing President Polk's thunder, whom he disliked immensely).

Thanks again for all the wonderful information!

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks for the heads up. I have already corrected it. I don't know how I let that slip by me. You really know your Texas history!

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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.