I’ve never celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Granted, I didn’t know too much about the holiday, even while growing up in Texas. But I knew that getting drunk on Dos Equis and Corona didn’t seem to celebrate anything but ridiculous excessiveness. I just assumed it was Mexico’s version of St. Patrick’s Day.
So when I met and married my wife, who was born in Mexico, I decided to take a more proactive approach about Mexico and its history. First and foremost, I asked what Cinco de Mayo meant to her.
“We never celebrated Cinco de Mayo.”
Jackpot! I knew I married the right girl! But digging deeper into its history and observance brought up a few very interesting things. Like my wife, most Mexicans don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It is classified as a national holiday in Mexico, so schools and government offices close along with about a third of businesses. In terms of celebration, though, Cinco de Mayo is a bigger deal in the United States than in Mexico, where it’s more of a regional event — marginally celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City, where on May 5, 1862, an outnumbered Mexican army defeated the invading French forces.
While many Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo by downing several Mexican beers at a party, or by making a late night run to Taco Bell, consider instead taking the time to recognize Mexican history and culture. So, here are cinco cosas you can do to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a unique and completely enjoyable way.
- Enjoy a proper Mexican meal. The 2009 outbreak of swine flu may have originated in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean Mexican products are a risk. In fact, not one (credible) website tells you to avoid Mexican products or food. So, indulge in some fine Mexican food (like this recipe for potato flautas) and, if you can find it, Mexican Coca-Cola, which is made with real sugar (unlike its American counterpart.)
- 7 medium potatoes
- 1 medium white onion, diced
- 1/3 C olive oil
- 1/2 t black pepper
- corn oil
- 16 corn tortillas
- avocado slices
Boil potatoes whole, skin on, until soft but not mushy. Rinse under cold water, peel, and mash. They should be lumpy. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add the potato and seasonings and sauté an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Heat about an inch of corn oil in frying pan on medium high. Divide the potato mixture onto the 16 corn tortillas. Wrap tightly and secure with wooden toothpicks. Fry in the oil on both sides until crisp.
Top with lettuce and avocado slices. (Cheese optional). Serve with black beans, salsa and/or guacamole.
- Contribute to a charity in Mexico. There are numerous organizations that help combat social problems in Mexico — from spousal abuse to animal cruelty to protecting the sea turtles. This website, mexonline.com/noprofit.htm, helps you get in touch with the organizations devoted to helping those who most need it.
- Adopt a chihuahua. Although Mexico does not have a national dog, I can see no greater honor than putting a noble chihuahua — it was the dog of the Aztec warriors, after all — on the Mexican national flag. All joking aside, the popularity of these dogs exists for a reason — they make terrific pets! So check the internet for responsible breeders or, better yet, visit your local animal shelter and adopt a rescue dog.
- Promote Mexican Independence Day. September 16th is a date celebrated by all of Mexico, and Mexicans worldwide: the day Mexico began its fight for independence from Spain. Think of creating an educational opportunity disguised as a party. Invite some friends, hang up a piñata, listen to mariachi music, watch a Mexican league soccer game (usually on Univision or Telemundo) and once everyone is suitably relaxed, launch into a brief explanation of why — if we truly want to honor Mexico — we should all reconvene on September 16th, the Mexican 4th of July.
- Learn Spanish. This is undoubtedly the most difficult of the cinco cosas but arguably the most rewarding. If you’ve ever yearned to learn a new language, few would be more useful than Spanish, as it is spoken by almost 400 million people worldwide. Even a cursory knowledge of Spanish would help you better enjoy trips to such hotspots as Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Originally published May 3, 2009.