El Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) festivities are to Mexican-Americans what St. Patrick’s Day festivities are to Irish-Americans—a joyful expression of ancestral pride and a celebration of the rich diversity of American culture. Mexican-Americans, like Irish-Americans, migrated to the United States because of dismal economic prospects at home. Both have prospered here; both love to party. Indeed, that unquenchable love of party shows great courage of spirit. It persisted despite many generations of grinding poverty in “the old country.” Party on, amigos!

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a resounding victory of Mexican troops over French invaders in Puebla, Mexico, on May 5, 1862. The French emperor, Napoleon III, antidemocratic despot that he was, planned to recolonize Mexico. He then hoped to help the Confederate Army secure the disintegration of the United States republic which he despised so thoroughly.

Fortunately for the Union Army, the valiant Mexican forces at Puebla thwarted Napoleon III’s game plan. The Mexican victory gave the Union Army enough time to build the massive military force that led to the decisive victory at Gettysburg in 1863. After Gettysburg, Lincoln dispatched General Philip Sheridan and troops to the Texas-Mexican border, where they supplied Mexico with weapons and ammunition. The Union even supplied soldiers, allowing honorably discharged American soldiers to keep their uniforms and rifles if they joined the Mexican army.

Although it took several years, the French invaders were eventually expelled. The American Legion of Honor marched in the Victory Parade in Mexico City. Because of American support in the 1860s, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U.S. Armed Forces, as did others after 9/11.

Despite the Mexican-American war in Texas in the 1840s, by the 1860s, Americans and Mexicans coexisted primarily as allies and friends. Sadly, in the background of today’s celebration of Mexican-American brotherhood, all is not sweet concord. I won’t address the serious problem of anti-Mexican bigotry today, but instead will focus on the militant nationalism of hotheaded and hate-mongering Mexican-Americans that seeks to pervert the spirit of Cinco de Mayo.

A quick Google search uncovers various lurid statements that some Mexican-Americans are making about the United States. For example:

“Get out! We are the future. You are old and tired. … Leave like beaten rats. You old white people. It is your duty to die.”

“California is going to be a Hispanic state. Anyone who doesn’t like it should leave.”

“We are practicing ‘La Reconquista’ in California.”

The concept of “Reconquista” is crucial. The “Reconquest” refers to the reconquest of Spain by Christians after centuries of occupation by Muslims from the 8th century until that most eventful year of 1492.

It is useless to try to alter the opinions of the men who made those statements. Malevolence cannot be reasoned with, so I merely offer the cautionary note that people consumed with anger about what happened to their ancestors often condemn their children to strife and violence. However, to Mexican-Americans and Mexicans of a calmer frame of mind, I humbly ask you, why would you want Mexico to take over California or any other American state?

Think about it. Why have you emigrated from Mexico to come here? Was it not for economic reasons? Then ask yourself, why is the United States a land of vast economic opportunity compared to Mexico? Why has the United States prospered over the decades while Mexico stagnated?

You can accuse me of Anglo-American jingoism if you want, but would you at least consider the possibility that the only reason the American southwest is so affluent today is because it is part of the United States and not Mexico? Both the Southwest and Mexico were blessed with temperate climates and abundant natural resources. The only reason why the former prospered while the latter stagnated was because the one was well governed and the other poorly governed.

If Mexico had been under the same system of law, governance, and justice as the United States, then its economic development would have paralleled that of the United States. If, on the other hand, the American Southwest had remained part of Mexico, it would be as underdeveloped as Mexico, and Mexicans would be emigrating northward from California in search of economic opportunity. In short, everyone—regardless of race or ethnicity—in the American Southwest today should be glad that Santa Anna lost the Mexican-American War! It would be a lot poorer region if he had won.

In closing, I offer an undiplomatic, pointed comment to the Mexican macho men who brag about reconquering California: If you really want to do something manly and heroic, try reforming Mexico. Set that beautiful land free so that it can finally achieve its enormous potential.

Happy “Cinco de Mayo,” everyone.