Cinco de Mayo bigger celebration in U.S. than in Mexico

Thursday, May 5, 2011 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 6:09 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 5, 2011
Jessica Gomez holds two margarita glasses at La Siesta restaurant on May 5. La Siesta was offering drink specials in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

COLUMBIA — Before Ana Gutierrez Gamez moved with her family to the U.S. at 9 years old, she had no idea what Cinco de Mayo was.

Gutierrez Gamez, 19, was born in Monterrey, Mexico. She had never celebrated Cinco de Mayo before and didn’t understand the hype Americans had about the holiday.


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“My first reaction was that I was a little amused, because they (Americans) were celebrating something we (Mexicans) don’t,” Gutierrez Gamez said. She said she still finds it funny that Americans “make such a big deal out of something that really isn’t a big deal.”

Cinco de Mayo is a day of remembrance of the Mexican victory over Napoleon III, who tried to march on Mexico City in 1862. The Mexican army met Napoleon III’s French troops at the city of Puebla. The battle lasted throughout the day.

Mexico won the battle, but the war against the French invasion wasn’t over. It wasn’t until Sept. 16 that Mexico won the fight against the French and claimed independence.

Robert Smale, a Latin history professor at MU, said Napoleon invaded Mexico in an attempt to turn Mexico into “a puppet nation of imperial France.”

“The French relied on racist ideology of the nineteenth century and underestimated the ability of the Mexicans," Smale said.

When Mexico rose victorious, the final result was an “affirmation of Mexican sovereignty against foreign aggression,” Smale said. Cinco de Mayo marked Mexican patriotism in the face of foreign threats.

Today, a broader American community shares the Mexican-American holiday, Smale said. But he also said there is a disconnect between the way people in the U.S. celebrate and the way people in Mexico celebrate.

“The irony is that sometimes Cinco de Mayo is more recognized in the U.S. than in Mexico,” he said. “Mexicans are perplexed about how Americans got so involved in it. It’s a much more subdued affair in Mexico.”

Smale said the only connection for Americans celebrating has to do with General Ignacio Zaragoza, who was in charge of the Mexican army during the fight against the French. The general was born in what is today Texas.

“What happened was because of this connection with Texas — the holiday really sort of took off among U.S. communities,” Smale said. “It really became a way to reaffirm connections between Mexican populations in America and those in Mexico.”

In the U.S., drinking, partying, dancing, Mexican food and Mexican beer accompany Cinco de Mayo. But it’s not like that in Mexico, Gutierrez Gamez said. She said she doesn’t ever celebrate the holiday unless her friends ask her to go out.

She said, “I don’t do anything in particular; it’s basically just another day.”

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