Cinco de Mayo, a U.S. battle, past and present

The pickings were good this cinco de mayo. I scored one shiny black maraca and a bottle of Dos Equis, both delivered by one smiling promo-model with a spray-on tan and peel off eyes. Cinco de mayo, that chili fueled, Corona soaked ‘national fiesta’ is a reminder that many who ‘just love Mexico’ like their Mexican with a salted rim and served on a platter. If I seem unduly harsh consider this AOL article featured on The Huffington Post of all places, that explained the ‘celebration’ is more American than apple pie by enumerating the U.S. born and bred food and drink we call Mexican.

Salt or no salt? Don’t get me wrong, I believe in celebrating food and drink, I revel in it. The Robert Rodriguez mexploitation trailer was a huge hit in Latino cyber world today.

But we celebrate ‘being Mexican,’ if only today, at a time when: Arizona approves a hugely controversial policing law and when Latinos of all citizenship status persuasions are increasingly targeted for hate crimes. When the Klan turns out to greet the Dream Walkers, students on their walk from Miami to Washington DC to ask that President Obama make good on his campaign promise to pass the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students who were brought to this country as children. At a time when a ferocious storm has formed to claim ownership of the definition and image of ‘made in America.’

This, folks, obfuscates the fact that cinco de mayo is, in fact, a battle tied to the U.S. In the little town of Goliad Texas, you will find a tiny adobe house, a replica of the birthplace of one Ignacio Zaragoza, the commander at Puebla who beat back the invading French forces on cinco de mayo 1862 (contrary to popular belief it’s not Mexican independence day.) To most Texans, Goliad isn’t known as the birthplace of Zaragoza, it’s known as the “massacre” site of Texas rebels captured by Mexican soldiers and then executed on the order of Santa Anna. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!

A few hours’ drive south, Zaragoza found his cavalry commander, Porfirio Zamora, in Palito Blanco, a small ranching community in South Texas, the birthplace of my grandmother and where my father willed me a whole bunch of cactus, mesquite and brush—my stake in Texas. A few years ago at a family reunion I that Zamora is buried in Palito Blanco, a point of pride for his descendants, my cousins, who told me they treasure their ancestor’s banner—the second highest combat decoration, the “Condecoración de Segunda Clase”– which was awarded to Zamora by President Benito Juarez.

To my great shame, I had no idea about this family history or Zamora’s ties to Palito Blanco. But it served to help me better understand why my Mexicaness is such a critical part of my “Americaness.” There’s no “going back” to Mexico, there’s no searching for Aztlan, for me and many others, our Texas, Tejano, U.S. identity and culture was forged from tradewinds that carried the spirit, history of colonialism, suffering and wisdom of the indigenous, Spanish, Mexican people that gave Texas and the U.S. tacos and fajitas, but also the rodeo and military know-how, and a connection to the greater hemisphere. I lose not one with the other.

But that’s not the case for everyone. I’m reminded of a recent protest in Washington DC—ostensibly for gun rights but with deeper more complex undertones—in which one of the protestors carried a flag that read, ‘come and take it’ in reference to those old Texas vs Mexico battle days.

I couldn’t help but wonder if they long for a past that never really was, a story with only one side of the narrative told. I thought about this recently when I caught up with the Dream Act students as they approached the nation’s capitol after a four month journey up the East Coast, undocumented and vulnerable. With a great sense of purpose they deal with their precarious present situation by walking toward an uncertain future with hope and belief, while many others cope by looking back to the past with great fear.

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