What is Cinco de Mayo to Me?
First of all, it's my birthday! Being born in Texas and having lived a large percentage of my life in Los Angeles and Phoenix, I typically celebrate my birthday by eating Americanized Mexican food. Yum!
"Cinco" is Spanish for "five," and "Mayo," not too surprisingly, is Spanish for the month of "May." The word "de" merely means "of."
Contrary to popular misconception in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Their Independence Day is celebrated September 16. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, 1862.
Mexican forces had a surprising victory over apparently superior French forces. Time magazine came to make the comparison of a Mexican "David" facing the French "Goliath." At the time, the French forces were considered the best in the world.
For that festive, South of the Border flair to your Cinco de Mayo party.
The holiday is not widely celebrated in Mexico, but it has gained increasing popularity in the United States. The folk dances and music are catchy, but the food catches my attention.
Even President G.W. Bush had Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the White House. And I wasn't invited?
I can taste the enchiladas, frijoles, ensalada y arroz, right now, topped off with Carta Blanca cerveza—a Mexican beer familiar to me and my family. The feast usually starts out with salsa and chips. You dip your corn tortilla chips in the tomato-based salsa, making sure to mix some of the hot stuff in with the mild, and snack on this until the food comes. When my meal arrives, I typically pour one entire cup of salsa over my enchiladas and rice, then mix the Spanish rice with my frijoles refritos (refried beans). If available, I sometimes dollop on a bit of sour cream to cool the salsa a bit.
When I was twelve, the family moved from West Texas to Maryland. I remember that my mother asked for Mexican food ingredients at the local grocery store, but the manager had no idea about such things. To his credit, though, he arranged to have them stocked. Any more, though, such ingredients are not difficult to find in most parts of the United States.
I don't always wait until my birthday to have my Mexican food favorites, but frequently my birthday has included them just the same. Alas! Now that I live in the Philippines, good Mexican food is hard to come by.
Cinco de Mayo of the Past
The fifth of May was a red-letter day in the politicization of Christianity in AD 553. That day was the start of the Second Council of Constantinople, headed up by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I at which Pope Vigilius refused to attend.
In 1260, May 5, marked the day Kublai Khan became ruler of the Mongol Empire.
May 5, 1494, Christopher Columbus lands in Jamaica, claiming the island for Spain.
Emperor Napoleon I died on May 5, 1821 on Saint Helena Island, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean—a pretty lonely place.
Memorial Day was first celebrated on May 5, 1866 at Waterloo, New York (not related to Napoleon's Waterloo).
In 1891, New York City's Music Hall, which later became known as Carnegie Hall, had its grand opening under the baton of guest conductor, Tchaikovsky—yes, the great Russian composer.
Baseball fans should remember this date in 1904! It was the first perfect game. Cy Young of the Boston Americans was pitching against the Philadelphia Athletics. On May 5th? Now, that's perfect.
A bad day for education occurred in 1925 when John T. Scopes was arrested on May 5 for teaching evolution. Perhaps someday the fundamentalist will learn the humility that the Nazarene held in such high regard.
And in 1961, I almost forgot my eleventh birthday when astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American into space. In the grade school gymnasium, one of the teachers had set up a television on the stage and all of the students gathered around as the rocket lifted off. After it was all over, I remember going to the empty stage in the empty auditorium and touching the stage where the television had sat. Yes, the Russians had sent Yuri Gagarin into space the previous month; that had been a full orbit and Shepard's flight was only a 15-minute, sub-orbital hop, but that didn't stop me from feeling elated.
A couple of weeks later, my grandparents came back from their yearly Cinco de Mayo celebration in Monterrey, Mexico. And they had a special surprise for me—a Monterrey newspaper (in Spanish, of course), showing Alan B. Shepard just after his historic flight. I saved that paper for years.
In 1967, we lived in Rockville, Maryland, and our next-door neighbors were with the Dominican Republic embassy. The Mrs. found out that I liked arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and baked a paella for my birthday. What a heavenly treat.
Also Born on May 5
Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher (1813), a really deep thinker.
Karl Marx, German political philosopher (1818), where modern Communism got its start.
Tyrone Power, American actor (1914), 1930s and 40s heartthrob.
Will Hutchins, American actor (1932), remembered for his starring role in the Western TV series, Sugarfoot.
Marc Alaimo, American actor (1942), perhaps most noted to Star Trek fans as Gul Dukat, the evil Cardassian.
Tammy Wynette, American musician (1942), "Stand by Your Man."
Michael Palin, British writer, actor, and comedian (1943), of Monty Python and Time Bandits fame.
John Rhys-Davies, English-born Welsh actor (1944), widely loved for his roles in two Indiana Jones movies and his role of Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Looks as though I'm in good company.