Monday, May 5, 2008

¡Olé! ¡Cinco de Mayo! (and The Writer's Almanac)

According to The Writer's Almanac (a website I visit regularly), today is Cinco de Mayo (“the fifth of May” in Spanish), “a Mexican holiday that celebrates the Battle of Puebla, 1862, in which Mexican forces defeated French invaders against overwhelming odds. What began with a demand by the govern-ment of France for payment on bonds turned into a war of conquest. The French commander was sure of victory, but 2,000 troops under General Ignacio Zaragoza carried the day instead. The French ultimately won the war, installing Maximilian of Austria as ruler of Mexico, but the victory at Puebla gave the Mexicans the confidence to depose him and declare independence, five years later [Aside from me: depose, my eye, they executed him]. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with fiestas, parades, battle reenactments, and often a combate de flores, a battle of flowers. The site of General Zaragoza's birthplace, in Goliad, Texas, was designated a state park in 1960.”

So says The Writer's Almanac. Funny, I always thought Cinco de Mayo had something to do with Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821. But unlike Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days, I find it very easy to say I was wro..., I was wro....

Mr. Garrison Keillor of St. Paul, Minnesota, which also happens to be where the photo above was taken, reads daily from The Writer's Almanac on your local National Public Radio station. Twice a day, in fact. This week he'll be talking about Karl Marx, Soren Kierkegaard, Henry David Thoreau, Sigmund Freud, Johannes Brahms, Robert Browning, Fred Astaire, and Salvador Dali. He'll also be talking about a lot of people I never heard of. If you'd rather not listen to him, you can read The Writer's Almanac for yourself online every day, or do as I do: I prefer to read a week's worth every Monday morning.

It's fascinating stuff. I recommend it.

But back to Cinco de Mayo, here's more about it from another source, “In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. The date is perhaps best recognized in the United States as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much as St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are used to celebrate those of Irish, German, and Chinese ancestry, respectively. Similar to those holidays, Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origin...Special events and celebrations highlight Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing. Examples include ballet folklórico and mariachi demonstrations held annually at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles, near Olvera Street. Commercial interests in the United States have capitalized on the celebration, advertising Mexican products and services, with an emphasis on beverages, foods, and music.”

With an emphasis on beverages, foods, and music. No kidding. Thanks, wikipedia, I would never have known, otherwise.

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