CINCO DE MAYO
They shall not pass!
--a Mexican battle cry
Respecting other people's rights creates an atmosphere of peace.
Sing and do not cry,
because with singing
the heart becomes happy.
--lyrics from Cielito Lindo
In the spring of 1862, after receiving word that French forces were marching on Mexico City, President Benito Juarez (a native Zapotec Indian) sent troops to head them off. It was on May 5th, in the little town of Puebla, that a small, ragged, untrained, and under-equipped army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza met and defeated the invading French, a well-armed, professional army led by Napoleon III. Though the battle was only a temporary setback for Napoleon, it proved to be the catalyst which provided the Mexicans with confidence enough to persevere and ultimately triumph over the French in 1867. The French defeat must have surprised Napoleon III, the ruler of France, who was attempting to annex Mexico by taking advantage of the destruction and bankruptcy that existed there. Mexico's condition at that time was the result of the War of Reform (1858-1860), an internal political, economic, and religious struggle. At the end of this civil war, Mexico owed more than $80,000,000 to foreigners. France invaded Mexico, using debt collection as an excuse. Napoleon III's true motivation, however, was total control of Mexico and its potential wealth.
In addition to its importance in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is significant to all Americans because it marks the last time that any foreign power has acted the aggressor on North American soil.
THE CELEBRATION: Parades usually start moving about 11 o'clock, when the first band strikes up a lively marching tune. Marchers dressed as French and Mexican generals lead the way with soldiers following, armed like the original freedom fighters with machetes and old-fashioned rifles. Paraders wearing skirts and flowery hats represent the women (soldaderos) who traveled with the army to cook and care for the men. Those portraying French soldiers carry knapsacks with wine bottles sticking out of them. At mid-afternoon the "battle" begins in the plaza. Rifles and cannon roar, there is much smoke and shouting, and at nightfall, the Mexican and French generals meet face-to-face for a sword battle. The Mexican general, of course, wins. The fiesta also includes speeches by government officials, lively dances and games, mariachi music, traditional foods, bullfights, and colorful decorations. At night there are pinatas for the children and the celebration ends with beautiful displays of fireworks.
Though Cinco de Mayo is a day of huge military and political significance, we must remember that it is not the battle of Puebla itself that we celebrate. Rather, it is a day to celebrate pride, independence, and freedom. Viva la Fiesta!
Puebla is famous not only for the Cinco de Mayo victory that occurred there but also for a festive dish called mole poblano de guajolote (turkey in chocolate and chili sauce). Prepare a report about Mexican chocolate. Include its source, history, use during festivals, and recipes.
The basis for many Mexican fiesta dishes is the tortilla. Try to make tortillas by grinding corn with a metate (flat rock) and molino de mano (roller) or by using a tortilla press and masa harina (cornmeal).
Make a piñata.
SINGING: Teach your students a beautiful and moving song about the colors of nature, sung all over the Spanish-speaking world at fiesta, called "De Colores." Learn the lyrics to the song, “La Bamba.” After reviewing it a few times, try singing it. Now for an amusing feat, try singing along with an authentic mariachi recording of it. It’s a very fast moving song!
MAPS: Make a large wall map of Mexico. Include and label the Sierra Madre Occidental, Sierra Madre Oriental, Sierra Madre del Sur, Central Plateau, Yucatan Peninsula, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Puebla, and Mexico City.
Many Mexican villages celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a central plaza and a nearby mercado (market). Construct models of these places.
ART: Study pictures of the historical murals by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Create a classroom mural depicting the battle at Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Present information about the origin and nature of mariachi music in an imaginary interview between a talk show host and a mariachi musician. Or create 6 to 8 paper doll mariachi players. Make traditional traje de charro costumes for them. Construct violins, horns, and guitars. Listen to records and performances of mariachi music. Include two early mariachi songs such as "Las Olas" ("The Waves") and "La Mujer Negra" ("The Dark Woman").
A Tale of Two Mexicos
July 5, 2006
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
WASHINGTON—It's just as well that Mexico has two self-proclaimed presidents while the final count in Sunday's presidential election takes place: Mexico is not one, but two countries. Roughly one-third of the voters espouse modernity and globalization, and two-thirds cling to one of two forms of traditional politics: left-wing populism and the type of institutionalized political patronage represented by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
That is not to say that Felipe Calderon, the National Action Party, or PAN, candidate whose votes signify a desire to take Mexico to the next level under the global sun, will necessarily deliver just that—or that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the populist who is tied with Calderon, will be able to get away with every messianic dream he comes up with. What it means is that Mexico will most likely be stuck with its socioeconomic system for the next few years.
This division between modernizers and traditionalists is not new. While the PRI was in control of the country, the split took place within its own ranks. Now that the PRI has become the third force in Mexican politics, the division pits opposing parties. The process of modernization started in the mid-1980s and continued in the 1990s under three successive presidents of the PRI—Miguel de la Madrid, Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo. After Vicente Fox debunked the PRI in 2000, the PAN became the rallying force for modernizers and the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD—which had split from the PRI in the late 1980s—took up the traditional populist banner that mythical PRI figures such as Lazaro Cardenas had brandished in the past. The PRI, for its part, came under the control of the so-called ``dinosaurs'' and refused to espouse any kind of political idea, behaving like a vested interest content with enjoying power in the 17 states it still controlled and blocking all attempts at economic and social reform in Congress, where it constituted a majority.
Although Fox needs to be commended for continuing to open up the political system and guaranteeing freedom of the press, he failed to push through the types of reforms that might have helped his country leap forward and build a constituency for the acceleration of structural change. Because he couldn't untie the many knots that keep productivity low, the big divide between the small segment of society that is fully globalized and the masses who gravitate toward the informal economy or toward the border with the U.S. has not been bridged. With an average annual growth of 2 percent, the economy has failed to pull people out of poverty. The only reduction in poverty Fox can point to has to do with cash transfers that provide temporary relief.
The failure to modernize means, for instance, that oil production—the source of 40 percent of the government's revenue—is showing signs of decline. The Cantarell complex, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of Mexico's oil production, will probably lose half its output capacity in the next couple of years. Since the sector is closed to private investment, the possibilities of redressing the decline and expanding production in other fields are nonexistent. This is just one example of how the system holds back production. Not to speak of high energy costs and taxes that account for Mexico's drop in various competitiveness rankings.
Felipe Calderon is aware that he needs to throw open the doors and the windows of the Mexican socioeconomic system and let fresh air in. ``I am tired of the old caricature of the Mexican sitting idly against a tree with a sombrero over his face,'' he told me a few weeks ago—a line he has repeated in many public appearances in the last few weeks of his campaign. But so did Fox and here we are.
As for Lopez Obrador, it is true that he will face many constraints if he attempts to turn the clock back. International commitments—including NAFTA, which has helped expand Mexican exports by just under 300 percent, and membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—might induce moderation. The crude reality of a split Congress might hold him back too. But Latin America has seen populist leaders bend the rules once they achieved a critical mass of support. And the PRI, Lopez Obrador's alma mater, might be responsive to the siren songs of a former PRI guy desperate to mend fences and trade some power for legislative support.
Whatever happens, don't expect Mexico to become the next India—a nation now enjoying surprising growth—anytime soon.
An essay describing the history of the holiday cinco de mayo, in both Spanish & English.
Cinco de mayo lesson activites, crafts, games, and foods.