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Cinco de Mayo a part of American culture

According to late night TV show host Jay Leno, “St. Patrick’s Day is the Cinco de Mayo for white people.”

That had me laughing, and nodding in agreement when Leno said this on TV in March. I just have to mention it now as we prepare for a big Cinco de Mayo weekend here in eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Let me turn Leno’s remarks around, though: Cinco de Mayo is the St. Patrick’s Day for Hispanics.

During my past 14 years as a journalist, I’ve always felt like I have to not only explain but justify the reason Cinco de Mayo is observed in the United States. Even more perplexing, I’m often asked why this Mexican holiday is more popular on this side of the border than in Mexico, where a Mexican Army defeated French troops in Puebla, Mexico, on May 5, 1862. Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the Mexican army, was actually a former Texan-turned-Mexican hero.

The truth is, the United States is not a melting pot. It’s more like a bowl of stone soup. Every culture brings something to add to the pot, including holidays.

Cinco de Mayo, like St. Patrick’s Day, is just one example of a holiday from abroad that has become a part of not only American culture but history. Many historians believe that had Mexico not defeated the French, the French could have later defeated American troops.

For today’s Cinco de Mayo lesson, let me state what Cinco de Mayo is not. It is not Mexican Independence Day. That would be on Sept. 16, otherwise known as El Diez y Seis de Septiembre.

We Mexican Americans sure do have a lot of holidays. And contrary to what Jose Cuervo would have you believe, Cinco de Mayo is not, or should not be, just another marketing opportunity for liquor companies to shove even more booze down the throats of a population already experiencing an above-average problem with alcoholism.

A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows Hispanics had the nation’s highest rate of death from cirrhosis of the liver in 2001.

But every year I see beer companies sending the message that no Cinco de Mayo is complete without booze.

When I lived in Hobbs, they had a Cinco de Mayo queen competition and winners were awarded small scholarships from Budweiser. Can you imagine going to college on a Budweiser scholarship?

They thought they were doing the Hispanic community a favor. If they really wanted to do us a favor, they would take a more aggressive approach to promoting responsible drinking and would foot the bill for alcohol treatment programs.

On the lighter side, Cinco de Mayo is a good time to get together with family and friends for a barbecue or fiesta in the park.

When I worked at the Hobbs Daily News-Sun, co-worker Evelyn Rising and I did something different. We ran the features department and every year she covered Juneteenth because she is black and I covered Cinco de Mayo because I’m Hispanic. One year we switched. It was a great learning experience.

Naturally, I felt a little out of place at Juneteenth but had a good time and enjoyed good food. My daughter enjoyed the rap music. As for Evelyn, she needed a translator for the people she interviewed at Cinco de Mayo, but she didn’t complain about the food.

I hope y’all come to Cinco de Mayo celebrations scheduled at Portales City Park this weekend. If I didn’t have to write a term paper, I’d head to Lubbock’s Cinco de Mayo tonight for Jimmy Gonzalez and Grupo Mazz. They play that old school Tejano music I love.

Well, happy Cinco de Mayo. While I did bring up some serious topics are important, it’s also important to laugh at ourselves, too, so I’ll end with this joke:

Back in 1912, Hellman’s Mayonnaise was manufactured in England. The “Titanic” was carrying 12,000 jars of this condiment for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, the next port of call after New York City. The Mexican people were eagerly awaiting delivery and were disconsolate at the loss of the mayonnaise — so much so they declared a national day of mourning which they still observe today.

It is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at

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