Last Update: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez, Editor   
Thursday, 03 May 2012 02:10

Exhibition and festivities mark the 150th anniversary of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo in Los Angeles and California

The holiday takes on new meaning with new book by Dr. David Hayes Bautista.

While celebrations are held throughtout Los Angeles and the United States, Cinco de Mayo has been a holiday that many fail to fully understand. Often confused with the 16th of September Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo marks the Battle of Puebla when an small Mexican army was able to turn back and defeat well armed French troops.

For Chicano activists studying at UCLA and other universities in the 1960's, Cinco de Mayo was embraced and celebrated as a holiday that those in the movement could relate to as an example of overcoming great odds and adversity. They promoted the holiday with a celebration that took note of a David vs. Goliath moment in history, the holiday became a teaching opportunity to invoke pride and encouragement for students. Chicano art including folklorico, mariachi, jarocho music groups and teatro (theatre) groups were also formed and grew from the movement, academic study and the celebrations that were held on campuses.

It's always been confusing for those living in Mexico to understand why the holiday is so embraced in the United States when in Mexico it has received little attention. It's interesting to note however, that because of the celebrations north of the border, that Mexico has started to hold Cinco de Mayo celebrations, especially at the U.S/ Mexico border and U.S. Tourists visiting Mexico have come to expect celebrations when they visit Mexico during this time of the year. Cinco de Mayo is s among the examples of the strong impact and influence that Chicanos or Mexican Americans have had on U.S culture. Mexican music, dance, food and in this case, holidays like Cinco de Mayo are now celebrated widely not just in Los Angeles but across the country and have become part of American culture.

Over recent years, Cinco de Mayo has been criticized for losing it's meaning and becoming so commercialized and exploited. So much so that it is now compared to St. Patrick's Day as "Drinko de Mayo," as a drinking and party holiday.

But that view may be improved, with a new book titled: Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition from University of California Press by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista. He presents his research that traces the holiday's origin and provides insight into the celebration's historical roots in the United States. Bautista goes back much further than the Chicano movement, he documents the celebrations that go back to the civil war.

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes (LA Plaza), in partnership with the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA and Unión de Poblanos en El Exterior (UPEXT) is also presented the first exhibit of it's kind that explores the Civil War roots of this American holiday.

On view from May 5 through August 6, 2012, this exhibition explores the experience of Latinos in the newly formed U.S. State of California. After the U.S. victory in the Mexican- American War, debate roiled over slavery in the newly acquired Mexican territories and over the French assault on Mexico. Inspired by Dr. David Hayes- Bautista's newest book, this exhibition examines previously little-known connections between the historical events of the time and Cinco de Mayo. This exhibition features photography, newspaper articles, and objects of the period. Exhibition background: Why do Americans celebrate a holiday commemorating a military battle between French and Mexican troops in the town of Puebla in 1862, and conceive of the holiday as Mexican, when it is little acknowledged in Mexico? How has the holiday evolved from the first celebration in Northern California in 1862, to the celebrations of today--which have all but lost the initial meaning? Drawing on research by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, the exhibition Cinco de Mayo: Latinos in California Respond to the Civil War, explores these questions and outlines the history and Civil War roots of this American celebration.

This exhibition offers new insight into Latino culture in California during the American Civil War. Latinos formed community political organizations or juntas patrióticas to mobilize in support of the Union by forming militias to fight against the Confederacy in the territories. They celebrated the eventual Union victory, mourned the death of Lincoln, and erupted in jubilant celebrations at the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico.

Hayes-Bautista's book also explores the impact of new waves of immigration from Latin America as they made their way to California. Its origins in threats posed by the Civil War and the French invasion of Mexico, had meaning for Latinos negotiating a new country and culture that often marginalized them. He points out that Cinco de Mayo continues to resonate through contemporary debates about immigration, language, and power.

Dr. Hayes-Bautista will be speaking on Cinco de Mayo, Saturday, May 5th at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes 501 North Main Street Los Angeles. The exibition will also be open to the public this weekend and during their regular hours. Hours: Mon., Wed.-Sun. 11:00am – 7:00pm. Admission: free Info: (213) 542-6200 Website: