Cinco de Mayo: Celebrating Mexican courage, culture, cuisine and Our Lady of Guadalupe, too

SUNDAY, MAY 5: Ole!

An hispanic young woman wearing a colorful traditional dress dancing in street festival

A Cinco de Mayo dancer in a festival organized by Columbia University. Photo in public domain

Bring out the salsa verde and turn up the Latin music! It’s Cinco de Mayo. For one day, Mexican culture resonates around the world: The American President officially declares the holiday; Canadians hold street festivals; Australians put on a cultural fest and Brits celebrate with a toast to Mexico. (Wikipedia has details.) Ironically, this global recognition of the Mexican nation didn’t start in Mexico. It started in the United States, where Americans of Mexican origin were commemorating a Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla of 1862.

That era in Latin American history is complex, but basically involved European imperial powers seeking to take over Mexico. The force that landed in 1862 and waged war for five years was French. Other European powers assumed that the French would conquer Mexico with little resistance. The Battle of Puebla—on May 5, 1862—certainly did not win the war for the Mexicans. Nevertheless, the Mexican victory was celebrated as demonstrating the people’s courage and ability to defeat one of Europe’s most powerful armies. (Learn more at History.com.)

May 5 is still celebrated throughout the state of Puebla, in Mexico, and most widely in the United States. Many American schools and communities hold Mexican educational events, and iconic Mexican symbols—including the Virgin of Guadalupe—are displayed.

CINCO DE MAYO: LOOKING FOR TASTY MEXICAN RECIPES?

Of course, what is Cinco de Mayo without some tantalizing Mexican recipes? Try a few suggestions from Food Network, the Huffington Post and Fox News. For kids, Kaboose has Cinco crafts and activities.

This year’s yummiest Cinco de Mayo food story, though, comes from the Smithsonian Magazine. Given the Smithsonian’s interest in cultural authenticity, the magazine story reports: “What America’s Cinco de Mayo misses is the traditional food of Mexico, named to the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, a recognition given to only one other cuisine (French). … What makes traditional Mexican fare worthy of such a distinction? You won’t find cumin-soaked ground beef in hard shell tacos topped with iceberg and cheddar. But, you will find beef barbacoa that has been smoked underground in banana leaves or carnitas topped with queso fresco, pickled onions and homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortilla that has been ever so lightly heated on a comal.”

Read the entire Smithsonian story, complete with a half dozen tasty—and authentic—recipes!

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cultural diversity.)