Shall We Punish the French?

On Cinco de Mayo, commemorate the human struggle for freedom against foreign interventions

By Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: May 3, 2003

Shall We Punish the French?

Contrary to what many "borrachos" think, Cinco de Mayo does not commemorate the passage of the 21st Amendment -- which repealed the 18th Amendment that outlawed liquor. Instead, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle that pitted a ragtag Mexican army against a French force -- part of the most powerful imperial army of the 19th century.

Given this, one would think that people of Mexican ancestry would be receptive to the Bush-Cheney administration's call to punish the French for not supporting the United States in its defiance of the United Nations in its quest for war. That call, however, is falling on deaf ears, as Mexico and most of the world did not support the Anglo-American war either. But the administration is not content with retaliating against the French only. It has also threatened reprisals against Mexico and people of Mexican origin in the United States. (Other nations, such as Turkey and Chile, are also being subjected to reprisals.) Not to be forgotten is that as a result of the president's war on terror: Arabs/Muslims are virtually persona non grata in the United States.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's recent decision to hold immigrants indefinitely and without bail is being interpreted as the first salvo in this U.S. war of reprisals. Immigrants are now shamelessly being equated with terrorism. This despite the fact that many immigrants have died in the war and many will get their citizenship post-mortem. Reportedly, the annual White House Cinco de Mayo celebration may have become a casualty in this war of reprisals.

We have an administration that is seemingly punch-drunk with power and hell-bent on becoming the imperial power of the 21st century. After Afghanistan and Iraq, it has also now threatened Iran and Syria anew, this while in a nuclear standoff with North Korea. Incidentally, weapons of mass destruction were not used in Iraq against U.S. forces, nor have any have been found. (Invade first, inspect later?)

But back to Cinco de Mayo and that other imperial war. Should we punish the French for invading the Americas? Or should we just be glad that they have provided us with a big Hispanic Happy Hour? It kind of makes you wonder if the Iraq war or Sept. 11 will one day be commemorated and sponsored by the liquor industry. Even watered-down holidays are symbolic and speak to the psyche of a nation, to the psyche of a people. In this respect, Cinco de Mayo, similar to St. Patrick's Day or Oktoberfest, has become highly Americanized. (Perhaps those two days are the prototype for Cinco de Mayo, as they involve lots of drinking and the general population seems not to know their actual significance.) Little wonder that Cinco de Mayo is being fashioned in a similar manner, even though it commemorates an anti-imperialist war.

Those who commemorate Cinco de Mayo in the United States for reasons of cultural pride are understandably bothered by the predominance of liquor on this day. Beer and liquor are not benign. They are harmful and destructive drugs. It's not a stretch to call them true weapons of mass destruction, as they are as deadly as any imperialist war. In fact, ethnic/racial and poor communities are especially targeted by the liquor industry. Deaths in poor communities from alcoholism and other diseases, and accidents and violence as a result of liquor, dwarf the number of lives lost in war.

Actually, many people do know the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, but they don't know it because of the liquor industry. Perhaps it's not in that industry's interest to be the primary educator (regarding foreign oppression) of the next generation. Instead, keep customers' minds blurred and keep 'em coming back for more. This appears to be the same strategy used by politicians. Why did we attack Iraq? Because they had WMDs, our homeland was threatened, and they were responsible for Sept. 11? Somehow, the reasons blur, but what does it matter as long as we can toast to the quick victory?

Incidentally, if the people of Iraq tell the United States military that they'd rather run their own country and send them packing, will that be something to celebrate? That's kind of like Cinco de Mayo.

Perhaps Cinco de Mayo should be the day that people commemorate the human struggle for freedom against foreign interventions. Will anyone drink to that?


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