It’s Almost Cinco De Mayo

A Cause to Celebrate 

In general los Mexicanos, y los Mexican Americans  are always down for  a good fiesta. We can lay out a beautiful scene and cook a delicious spread! Verdad? Con mi familia, we usually celebrated the main events like weddings, quinces, baptismals and Navidad and yes Accion de Gracias, can’t leave out Thanksgiving! After that, other federal or famous days went unnoticed with my familia, my apa  worked Monday- Saturday and sometimes on Sunday, all that to say that Cinco de Mayo did not stir up a fiesta around our house. Que si es un poco extraño, strange, because my apa loved to talk about the Mexican history, especially the Revolucion. You know, the Cinco de Mayo story is a great one and I think it should be a national holiday in Mexico, pero no lo es!

A Gringo Celebration?

Do you know why it’s such a happy occasion for us, the Americanos? Pues, I do now. Con mucha pena, as embarrassing as it is, I confess that I just barely uncovered a few of the details. Pero, con mucho gusto I pass along my few history findings on Cinco de Mayo in this short and sweet history lesson.

The Battle of Puebla that affected us

The Battle of Puebla is observed primarily in one city of Mexico called…. Puebla, where the pleito took place. Here in the United States, communities with large Mexican American populations celebrate with an almost Grito zest. However, it is not about Mexico’s independence, but rather, Mexico’s perseverance. The United States was indirectly affected because of Mexico’s small triumph. 

Mexico’s Struggle 

After it’s long and difficult fight for independence, Mexico struggled so much that it became financially bankrupt. Mexico’s presidente, Benito Juarez found a solution by stopping payments going out to their foriegn debtors, que facil verdad?  Nope! It wasn’t that easy, the Europeans wanted their dinero.  Three powers met to see how they would deal with those Mexicanos! Spain, the U K and France devised a plan to invade Mexico. They sent an intimidating military presence to bully the Mexicans into paying their debts. France led the campaign since it had greater aspirations through this attack. Napoleon III was looking to establish a stronghold in North America through Mexico! Esperate! it gets more intense. As soon as the other countries saw his grand scheme, se arrepintieron

 Napoleon Connects with the Southern States

Although Napoleon was now on his own, he was confident that he could easily take care of Mexico and accomplish a French stronghold. But listen, this was only part of the bronca, he had visions to dominate in North America!

 Napoleon had a close connection with our Southern States. He was aiding the Confederacy during the Civil War! Yes,  asi fue, Napoleon supplied them with weapons in exchange for cotton which France’s economy heavily relied on. Imaginate! Napoleon was busy trying to conquer the world while Abraham Lincoln was trying to bring about Emancipation and reuniting the divided nation. 

The Battle in Puebla aids the Civil War Cause

 Yendo al grano. The bottom line is that the battle in Puebla was a classic underdog victory story. My apa loved these kinds of stories! The French were a superior military force, while the Mexicans with their humble state of enlisted and volunteer army had more will and perseverance than might. The French went in confident and well armed,  the battle raged  from sunup to sundown, but neither General Zaragoza nor his men would back down. When the French General realized that more of his men were going down in the battle, he had no choice but to retreat, Victory!  As I write this historic event I can picture my apa telling me  accounts of the Revolucion de Mexico, his eyes always glistened proud when talked about Mexico’s battle for independence. He was an underdog advocate, he strongly believed that one must confront that bully no matter what!  He backed conviction up referring to his own victory against the Bully in his life. 

The victory in Puebla gave Mexico a surge of confidence as it forged on. Napoleon was stopped in his tracks for a moment. He was prevented from helping the Confederacy with relief supplies and weapons while the Union army was able to regroup and gain strength. Meanwhile, en El Norte, established Mexican Americans citizens that lived in free states were relieved for the reprieve because it would indirectly aid in the Civil war cause. The Union could march forward with its vision for Emancipation.

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Sin duda! A good old fashion David vs Goliath victory. It was a cause for celebration. Those early fiestas included honorable mention of  General Ignacio Zaragosa who stood his ground and faced that bully! 

The story may have been forgotten but the fiesta goes on

Through the years the battle in Puebla or it’s historic significance has gotten buried, but in Mexican American communities, Cinco de Mayo is a continual celebration of Mexican culture. Traditions such as Mariachis, Ballet Folklorico and delicious Mexican food are celebrated around our states.

Que Sigue La Pachanga

 However you layout your menu for the day’s festivities make sure to include plenty of salsa and guacamole for all the unavoidable tortilla chips. After that, feasts range from tacos, chalupas, enchiladas and somewhere you’ll see some carne asada on the grill. Of course we cannot enter or leave a Cinco de Mayo feast without having a tamal, verdad? Y acuerdense  “Si se Puede”

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

Mi Apa – Manuel Zepeda Solano

Don Manuel

My dad went home on a Sunday afternoon; December 20th at 2:15 (He asked everyday when he would go home). He had just turned the corner into his 96 birthday. I don’t think a short post can uncover much about the life of a 96 year old man, so this is only a snippet of his journey here on earth.

Manuel, my apa, was born just after the Mexican Revolution (The Mexican Revolution! Pancho Villa?! Wow! I was super intrigued to know that his grandfather and father had been in and around the fringes of that dangerous era.) The Revolution had brought government changes and economic changes for some, but in the end, El Pobre remained poor and struggling. In those days Mexico was bursting with riches in precious metals; gold and silver and he always said “Los Americanos supieron como sacarlo” because the Americans had the money and knowledge to invest in those gold mines. In the Central Mexican hills and valleys of Jalisco through the quick response and hustle of the Americans, a mining town was birthed; El Mineral del Amparo. (My dad always said “los gringos”, I discovered that it was the description of all the whites; European and American who lived and worked in the town). He would share his stories with me during our visits and when he splashed history facts I always went home to research them. One day, as he began to tell me another story, I mentioned how impressed I was about his knowledge of history, I thought I was being generous by telling him that his facts were right, according to Google. With a twinkle in his eye and not a little indignation, he laughed and said “You’re double checking my facts on my history?” Yikes!)

My grandfather brought his new wife to El Amparo and here they started their life together, The Mining Company was his way of surviving outside of working in an hacienda. My dad was the first of nine children. (Since most Mexican families were this large, it’s not something to wow over,) As I heard some stories, I have been amazed at the resilience of man. My abuelo worked hard in the mines and my abuela was very resourceful helping ends meet in the home. Tortillas and frijoles, essentials in every Mexican home.

El Amparo

Dad shared many stories and descriptions of his childhood in this little mining town. Here it is hidden in the valleys, obscure, yet not without culture. He told me of the cinemas and theatres,  the large mercado, the mill for grinding maiz, Don Lucios ice cream shop and, the taxi driver (really, it sounded more like Uber, before Uber :D) See the town had to be outfitted for the Americans that lived there and the working Mexicans mostly enjoyed it from afar, but every once in a while with a centavo or two my dad would go right smack in the middle of the town square and partake. There in the center of it all, the boys would enjoy a game of canicas, a time to gamble their marbles.  Whenever he described it, it was always with a bit of pride that he too had experienced the rich culture of society; he went to the cinema a time or two and he saw the theatre from afar.

Wandering

My Dad wanted to see more of the world. He visited his grandfather who ran a huerta and learned about planting and harvesting. For a season he wandered trying to find his place in the world, picking up various farming skills along the way. Then, he heard the call for el Norte and responded immediately. Baja California was the bridge that brought him into Los Estados Unidos de America.

Familia

Dad went back home to Jalisco and got married, had two boys and went back to Baja, (Wow! What happened to the love story right? That’s for another post) where he spent a few years living in Mexicali and working across the border. It was probably a good transition time for mom, besides, she was busy having babies! During this time their family grew from four to eight (They were a fruitful couple, and they weren’t done because two more would come, pero, on the other side :D)

Settling Down

He landed in the Imperial Valley and stayed for the next seventy years! He connected with men, patrones that gave him learning opportunities. He learned about agriculture and intricate details of the irrigation system for watering the fields and he also learned about horses and machinery. He earned his way most of his life this way. He worked for the city of Calipatria, he was a night watchman for a cattle company, he had lots of work experience. (You can imagine my reaction when the young man trying to get details on his death certificate said can we write that he was a “farm hand”. All that wealth of experience reduced to that?!) My dad’s favorite experiences were with horses and sheep. One of those patrones hired him to herd sheep in the mountains of Utah. Although it was a lonely job, he loved the whole vaquero swag. His companion in those months out in the cold Sierra mountains was a sheep dog named Cazam. He had already started sporting the cowboy hat and Levi jeans but this season seemed to legitimize his stilo and honestly, it suited him well, my apa was a handsome fellow.

Manuel Zepeda Solano