Mayo My!

The night was cool and I was into the groove of old-school Chaka Kahn blasting on my car stereo as I cruised down Central Avenue in Phoenix. But my music high came to a sudden end when I heard the DJ make an announcement.

"Come witness the world's largest nachos and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us at Patriots Square this weekend," the announcer said with a Chicano accent.

Every year it's the same story. I start to hear the Cinco de Mayo radio ads and see all of the "Mexican" restaurants throw giant parties with all kinds of added goodies like wet tee shirt contests, and it steams me enough to make my curly hair straight.

You see, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, as many seem to believe. In fact, it's a small Mexican observance of a 19th-century military battle that's been turned into a major holiday by American alcohol and food purveyors. On May 5, 1862, in the town of Puebla, a contingent of 2,000 Mexican soldiers defeated three times as many French soldiers who were handicapped by diarrhea.

Go, Mexico! Shock and awe, compadres! Woo-hoo!

The following year, the French, feeling a little less under the weather, returned and kicked serious ass. Eventually, they were booted from the country, but the celebrations over the Cinco de Mayo battle never became a major observance.

Cinco de Mayo comes and goes without much fanfare south of the border except for a military display put on in the heart of Mexico City's main square, El Zocalo. Oh, and most of Mexico's population makes a point to eat mole on that day.

Many Mexicans in the United States celebrate Mexico by eating chiles en nogada, mole, chiles rellenos and capirotada. But they do that on September 16, Mexico's actual Independence Day. On May 5, the celebration is puro Americano, with folks gorging themselves on such "authentic" Mexican dishes as nachos, fajitas, chimichangas, burritos and "cheese crisps."

This last American invention, I think, must have come from the same people who dreamed up the Frisbee. Because that's about all it's good for, tossing in the air like a flying cheese-covered disk.

Oh well. I guess there's not much one irritated Chicana can do about it. By now, there's no stopping the only other major holiday dedicated solely to getting drunk -- St. Patrick's Day being the prime example. At least that day, when alcohol distributors count on thousands of new drinkers acquiring a taste for Irish whiskey and dark beer, is based on more solid ethnic footing. The sad thing about the college freshmen and others waking up with their first big tequila hangover Tuesday is that they'll be killing all those brain cells over something as trivial as a stupid military victory against the French.

Well, on the other hand . . . By Silvana Salcido Esparza

The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.

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Silvana Salcido Esparza