Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Friendly Reminder About Cinco De Mayo

Continuing a semi-yearly tradition of mine since my days working at my college paper, just a few notes about today:

1. This is not Mexican Independence Day
Nope, that's September 16th. 5/5 commemorates an unlikely Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The battle delayed, but did not stop, an eventual French occupation of the country, which lasted three years before it was toppled.

2. This is not that big of a deal back home
Don't let the beer ads fool you; 5/5 is a regional holiday, usually celebrated at the site of the battle. But, it's nowhere near as big a deal as it is in El Otro Lado. Now, is that because of immigrant pride, or American corporate opportunism? That, I leave for you to decide. During my time working in local Spanish-language radio, the biggest sponsors for our Cinco de Mayo concerts were -- you guessed it -- beer companies. Banners everywhere, beer girls hawking their wares on the stage, booze selling like hot cakes in the fenced-off drinking area. I don't doubt that at least some of the people who attended the events had their hearts in the right place, but the commercial aspect definitely got on my nerves when I thought about it.

3. 'Celebration' does not equal acceptance
Sure, people around the country will don their fakest sombreros and sing Ricky Martin at karaoke bars -- because all Latinos are from Mexico, right? -- but the furor over the H1N1 virus revealed examples of how we're still Others here, no matter the method of emigration. Check out these comments by Boston radio host Jay Severin regarding Mexicans:

"When we are the magnet for primitives around the world - and it's not the primitives' fault by the way, I'm not blaming them for being primitives - I'm merely observing they're primitive."

"It's millions of leeches from a primitive country come here to leech off you and, with it, they are ruining the schools, the hospitals, and a lot of life in America."

"We should be, if anything, surprised that Mexico has not visited upon us poxes of more various and serious types already, considering the number of criminaliens already here.

And in Pennsylvania, two white teens were acquitted in the beating and killing of an immigrant. From the story:

"Isn't it a little late for you guys to be out?" the boys said, according to court documents. "Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here."

... Burke recalled hearing one final, ominous threat as the teens ran. "They yelled, 'You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you're gonna be laying effin next to him,' " she said.

On the more anecdotal side, have you ever noticed that, in some discussions about the increase in Spanish-language radio stations in this country over the past few years, that there's almost always one person in the talk who gets indignant about it? That complains about "fucking Mexican music" as if it were clogging up his or her airwaves, depriving them of valuable time that could be spent listening to Sublime for the 80 millionth time? The guy who fancies himself a new Zapata today might be parroting Lou Dobbs tomorrow. Just something to listen for, if you're joining the party at your local watering hole tonight. Myself, I'm probably gonna sit it out, think about home, and have a drink.

Not tequila, for the record.

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