Two years ago I was in St. Louis on Cinco de Mayo. I was struck by how large a celebration there was there. This is a reflection of how widely the Mexican immigrant population has spread all across the U.S.
But the question remains: Is Cinco de Mayo a holiday that should be celebrated only by Mexicans?
What is Cinco de Mayo? To answer that question, you have to look at least briefly at what led up to the events of May 5, 1862.
In 1828, despite enormous pressure from the U.S. government, the Mexican Senate rejected a treaty that would have required Mexico to return fugitive slaves to the U.S.
The famous Battle of the Alamo in 1836 in San Antonio was fought by the Mexican army to prevent slavery from being established in Texas. Afterward, Mexican Secretary of War Jose Maria Tormel said: “Mexico considers all men to be brothers, created by our common father.”
In the 1850s, the Mexican government gave free land in the state of Veracruz to slaves running away from the United States.
During the Civil War in the United States, arms from France and other European nations poured into the areas of Mexico then controlled by the French army. From there they were shipped to the Confederacy which was defending slavery. When the Mexican national army under Juarez defeated the French at Puebla in 1862 this shut off the flow of arms to the Confederacy. This saved the lives of countless Americans, white and black. It helped speed the end of slavery. The defeat of the French at Puebla is now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. It should be celebrated throughout North America by everyone.
This is not some dry and dusty history lesson. Today we are taught to see ourselves in racial or national terms with separate interests. The history of Cinco de Mayo shows a way out of that trap–unity across the border, unity across all lines of color or nationality. This is what we need and are quite capable of now.
LEE BALLINGER is co-editor of one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, Rock and Rap Confidential, where this article originally appeared. For a free copy of the issue, email your postal address to: RRC, Box 341305, LA CA 90034 or send an email to: Rockrap@aol.com