What do tamales have in common with Cinco de Mayo? Mexican culture and perseverance. Tamales hold up a large cultural banner in Mesoamerican, Mexican and Mexican American history. Authentic Mexican tamales started as a sustaining food, then they evolved into a holiday food, being the highlight at Christmas and New Years celebrations. Later, Mexican Americans enjoyed their freedom in America and sometimes added their cultural delights into Thanksgiving with delicious savory and sweet tamales. I appreciate that my ama always included her Mexican traditions into our holidays, and now I pass them on to my own family, always thankful for God's strength and His many blessings as we persevere. Cinco de Mayo came along and carved a niche into Mexican American history as well. How did it happen that this Mexican holiday, that is not so popular in Mexico, grew into a big deal in the United States? What exactly is the Cinco de Mayo celebration about? Many, who acknowledge this fun fiesta day, do not exactly know what they are celebrating.
Cinco de Mayo has taken a couple of evolutions on the celebration wheel. Many people might think it’s about Mexico's independence but it’s not, that celebration takes place in September. Through the many years, Cinco de Mayo has become a day for Mexican Americans to celebrate their ethnicity and culture. However, originally this holiday was based on an “underdog” battle and victory that was barely won. This “small” victory turned out to be a sustaining aid for the United States.
In 1862 the most powerful military force in the world; Napoleon and his French army sought to conquer more land, while he "stuck his hand in the masa" regarding the American Civil war. He cut a deal with the Confederate army. In exchange for the South's cotton, he planned on supporting them with weapons. Napoleon aimed his land acquisition exploits toward the newly independent and impoverished nation of Mexico. He targeted and attacked the town of Puebla, expecting a quick win. Mexico's president Benito Juarez, pieced together an army of Mexican soldiers and indigenous fighters to stand up against the French invaders. Though they were outnumbered they miraculously were able to hold back the powerful French army. French soldiers had heavy losses and were forced to withdraw. This delayed aid to the Confederacy and bought time for the Union to regroup and gain strength. The Mexican president proclaimed Cinco de Mayo as a national holiday. It was a day to remember, the little town of Puebla had pushed back against the enemy, they persevered, fighting for their dignity and liberty for as long as they could. Meanwhile the North went on to win the grievous Civil War and abolish slavery.
Cinco de Mayo is a great day of victory both for Mexicans and Americans alike.
Here in the United States, while it is important to remember that fateful day in 1862, in Puebla Mexico, the holiday has also evolved into a celebration of cultural and ethnic pride in the Mexican American community, with Mexican traditions lighting the way. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, enjoy the festivities with the age old Mexican tradition of delicious tamales.