Cinco de Mayo an excuse to party in U.S.
By Sandra Hernandez - Last May 5, Elizabeth Martinez noticed a strange scene unfold in her modest Mexican restaurant: a large crowd gathered.
"We were going to close early but we just had so many [Anglos] coming in all day," said Martinez, who grew up along the U.S. Mexican border but has spent the last 32 years in Florida. "I couldn't believe how busy we were so finally I just asked them: `I didn't know you [Anglos] celebrate Cinco de Mayo?' And they all said yes, it was a good excuse to party and drink beer."
Martinez's experience underscores the odd place Cinco de Mayo has attained among U.S. holidays.
Like many Mexican Americans, Martinez admits she does little to commemorate a holiday that is increasingly popular among non-Latino revelers who embrace it armed with mucho beer and poco knowledge of the date's history.
"Is it Mexico's Fourth of July?" asks Donnie Clarke, of Lake Worth as he bites into a taco at Martinez's eatery.
"It's a celebration of a successful revolution south of the border down Mexico way," says Turney Fletcher, admitting he's short on Cinco facts.
"I'm not sure, but I celebrate it with a whole lot of food and lots of beer," says Peyton Price, smiling broadly as he listens to Martinez admit her Spanish is not as good as his.
"It's not Mexico's Independence Day," says Jorge Lomonaco, Mexico's consul general in Miami, who is happy to explain the date is not his country's version of July 4th. "It makes me proud that a day is dedicated to Mexicans, even if you do celebrate by getting drunk."
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when some 4,000 Mexican soldiers and local militias thwarted an army of about 8,000 French troops from invading the city. The French eventually sent additional troops and later installed Emperor Maximillian, who was later tossed out.
But almost 150 years later, the memory of the courageous battle has faded, replaced with slick marketing campaigns and novel alcohol-related items ranging from coasters to the ever-popular inflatable beer can.
"What was once a source of cultural pride has been reduced to a binge drinking holiday, thanks to the alcohol industry," said Amon Hoang-Rappaport, a spokesman for Marin Institute, a California-based alcohol industry watchdog.
Indeed, Madison Avenue has fixed their gaze on the expanding number of Latinos and their wallets. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic group and are expected to spend around $700 billion this year.
"It's a commercial entry point for people who want to penetrate the Latino market," said Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles. "This is mining. When the first world goes into the third world, the first thing they do is exploit the natural resource. This is the same thing. They want to get money out of these communities."
In Florida, the holiday has morphed into a pan-Latino celebration that pays tribute to the region's growing Hispanic community, including Mexicans. An estimated 450,000 Mexicans now live in Florida with about 128,000 living in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the U.S. Census' American Community Survey.
"Yes, it's a bigger celebration in the U.S. than Mexico but its popular and allows us to celebrate Hispanics," said Elaine Vasquez, who helped put on Fort Lauderdale's recent Cinco de Mayo fete this April along the Riverwalk.
But if the meaning of Cinco de Mayo is changing, few in Florida's Latino community are complaining.
"This is our busiest time of the year followed by Mother's Day," said Fanny Martinez, of the Mariachi Acapulco 2000 who hails from Venezuela along with other members of the group. "You know, most mariachis in South Florida aren't Mexican," she said.
"I'm not surprised," said Elizabeth Martinez, who admits she is considering hiring mariachis this year for her non-Latino clients.
Sandra Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954 356 4514.
Ahorre May 5, 2006 07:37 AM