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The Wondering Latina – Cinco de Mayo: The Myth, The Truth, My Culture and Me

My culture is not here for you to laugh at. Cinco de Mayo, the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican army defeats the French! But first, let me take you back…

Texas, the Battle of Puebla and the Civil War

“Spanish Texas” as it was known then, was Spanish territory until Mexico won their independence, then it became “Mexican Texas” under Mexico rule Texas would welcome freed slaves, since Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, Mexico made it illegal to own slaves and Texas would follow orders.

This would change later when European/Anglo settlers like Stephen F. Austin would take control, and Texas rebels would fight against the Mexican government, since they favored slavery, so think about that next time you say “Remember The Alamo” or “Come and Take It” – discussion for another day.

By 1792, free blacks and mulattos made up 15% of the population of Spanish Texas. Free peoples of color prospered as Mexican citizens. They owned land, built successful businesses, and married whomever they loved, regardless of skin color. However, when Mexico lost Texas, people of color lost their rights and their place.

The French heavily favored and supported the Confederate Army and slavery, especially in their territories along the borderlands, including both sides of the rio. Mexico supported the Union Army and held control over the borderlands, this is something to keep in mind when remembering the Battle of Puebla May 5th, 1862, which took place one year after the Civil War began.

Mexico was independent and would not have the backing of the Spanish army to help them now, yet they took their small militia and went on to beat the French army made up of 6,000 men!

As is reported in the current issue of the Loyal Legion Historical Journal: “Had the confederate artillery been fully supplied with modern and high-quality French munitions and guns, and highly compacted Union lines could have been severely hit and weakened, and it would have given a real opportunity for a successful charge and a different outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg, and possibly set the stage for the victory needed by the Confederate States of American to gain diplomatic recognition by the European Powers and the military support that this implied.

Fast Forward to 1980-1999

Top TV shows of 1980s: Growing Pains, Full House, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, The Wonder Years, to name a few. Aside from a few characters that maybe had a guest role, none of those shows we grew up watching had Latino characters in the main cast.

We entered the next decade with our friendship bracelets, Trapper Keepers and more awesome shows like, My So-Called Life, A Different World, Fresh Prince, Family Matters, Boy Meets World, The Simpsons. All these images filled our homes and formed our ideas of the world, along with the rest of the country, still no Latinos.

Then Saved By The Bell appears, and here enters the still-ever dreamy Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater. We aren’t necessarily sure what ethnicity Slater is, and as young girls we don’t really care, but since the rest of the shows mentioned are our only point of reference, we do know that he is indeed different from the rest, he looks like us!

It wouldn’t be until the College Years spin off that A.C. Slater has a whole revelation and discovers that he is Chicano and that his father had their last name changed from Sánchez to Slater in order avoid discrimination and enter the military (they were seriously ahead of the game.)

I remember watching that episode (yes I was a hard core fan, still am) and I was so happy! I knew it, he was Mexican! It was the first time I saw someone like myself, on a mainstream show, and in English. Prior to that, the only Latino characters, or Mexican characters, that I saw, were solely on Spanish language TV.

Although not from my generation but universally iconic, we DID have Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, born Linda Jean Córdova Carter, whose mother is Mexican, but mainstream never mentioned that, so we didn’t grow up with that insider knowledge.

I say all this to show how influential media is, and in the two decades of formative years for my generation, A.C. Slater is the one Latino character on a top show, that I can recall.

So we have established two things at this point:

  1. Images are very important in influencing our thoughts and perceptions.
  2. We don’t really see a lot of Latino images in pop culture/mainstream media before the year 2000.
etonline.com
Saved By Bell cast – etonline.com

Beer Companies Enter The Latino Media Game

The problem with having a void in representing us in media, is that someone has to fill it. Enter the marketing people. Companies decided to hire diversity marketing executives for the “Hispanic” communities.

We start to then see beer companies really compete for Latino market dollars in the 1980s and that’s when the concept was created to celebrate this battle in Mexico, and serve it to American audiences.

 

The ad guys (like on Mad Men) decided to step in and create the artwork that would promote ‘Cinco de Mayo’ and other product images related to Latino communities as well…THANKS.

Today the holiday is hardly even celebrated outside of the state of Puebla, yet in the United States it is one of the top consumer holidays for drinking, (so you know it ain’t going anywhere).

Since these original marketing campaigns began running in the 1980s, I don’t see much has changed, they have stayed pretty consistent in the insulting aspect, with the addition of a hyper sexualized version of the female Mexican image.

Splash_Page_Mexican

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to hate on anyone that wants to celebrate. I completely understand.

I feel that Texas textbooks (and the U.S.) have done a great job at white-washing our history books, and the fact that we are lacking diversity in media is how Latinos were robbed (Mexican Americans in the case of Cinco de Mayo) of an identity within our national conversation, to the point where we ourselves get excited to finally show some love for our culture and we gladly celebrate days like the commercialized idea of ‘Cinco de Mayo.’

We, ourselves, even partake in sombreros and mustaches because that’s what we have seen. I myself celebrated for many years, sure I was uncomfortable with the images but I just ignored them.

The Princeton Rotary Club will host a Cinco de Mayo event - it is for a scholarship fund. Good intention, bad choice of showing solidarity, very bad choice.
2017 – The Princeton Rotary Club will host a Cinco de Mayo event – it is for a scholarship fund.

However, as I began to take more special topics courses at UTEP (shout-out to all my professors) I had brilliant scholars open my eyes, I realized that my culture was beautiful and majestic and here we were allowing media to make a joke of our heritage.

That is what being “woke” means, that you are enlightened, you have had an awakening.

There was a time where maybe I wouldn’t have cared, but things changed, life changed, and over the last few years, I now care.

I was fortunate enough to have a job that took me across the country celebrating stories of Latinos in leadership, this next level of awakening made me all the more aware of how, outside of the bubble of El Paso, TX (which is 79.6 Latino), we are still a marginalized community in the bigger picture.

Granted there are pockets like El Paso, here and there, where Latinos are counted in high numbers, but that is not the norm across the nation, and we are still missing from mainstream media.

The Future Is Unwritten

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate, yes let’s go out and have a good time, I myself may even decide to attend festivities but I want to celebrate the beauty of my culture over the stereotype. I have a problem with someone turning my culture into a comical figure, which then becomes a false ideology, that spreads throughout the country.

No doubt I’ll see someone drunk, wearing a sombrero, and mustache tonight, DON’T BE THAT PERSON. If media is going to commercialize and make money off our culture well let’s at least celebrate the beauty instead, work to break those negative stereotypes and re-write our missing story.

Remember guys, friends don’t let friends be racist jerks. (or drive drunk, seriously make sure you call a cab or uber)

I have to wonder though, if media and society would have told a different story, such as the truth about Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla, and how Mexico played a part in holding back the Confederate Army with their victory that day, and what if we celebrated General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, who led that victory, who was born in Texas (Republic of Texas, present day Goliad); if textbooks wouldn’t have painted us (Mexican/Mexican Americans) as lazy or villains, and only made heroes of the European Anglo settlers, would things look differently today?

If, instead, we also studied the great achievements and contributions of Mexico, Spain, Indigenous tribes, etc…as required learning not just special topics in college since this is all part of Texas’ woven story, and if we had more images, positive images over the last 20-30 years, would people still dress up and mock our culture?

Would people still be chanting “build that wall?” Would students at Baylor University still have thrown a racist party last week, thinking it’s ok to dress in brownface?

Or we would we be a few steps closer to sitting at the table of equality? I guess we will never know.

cont’d from Battle of Puebla excerpt:At the end of the U.S. Civil War two years later, General Phil Sheridan took 100,000 Union soldiers to the Mexican border as a show of force against Maximilian and France, and the U.S. also provided modern weapons and military equipment, including medical equipment. In recognition of Juarez’s role, he was made an honorary member of the Loyal Legion.

President of Mexico, Benito Juarez
President of Mexico 1861-72, Benito Juárez

 

Texas-born Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, who led the victory against the French
General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, who led the victory against the French

 

Photo Credit: Puebla Historical Mural, Battle of Cinco de Mayo, General Zaragosa. CC image via https://www.flickr.com/photos/jaygalvin/
Photo Credit: Puebla Historical Mural, Battle of Cinco de Mayo, General Zaragosa. CC image via https://www.flickr.com/photos/jaygalvin/

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Monument to Benito Juárez in Alameda Park, Mexico City. Photos.com/Jupiterimages
Monument to Benito Juárez in Alameda Park, Mexico City.
Photos.com/Jupiterimages
Mural “Juárez, Símbolo de la República contra la Intervención Francesa” de Antonio González
Mural “Juárez, Símbolo de la República contra la Intervención Francesa” de Antonio González

About Yolitzma Aguirre

A little about me, I am a proud El Paso, TX native. Previously I traveled across the country telling stories of rising Latino leaders. Currently, the nation's capital is home, where I will tell new stories...but always keeping El Paso in my heart.

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2 comments

  1. sierra.pacificadj@verizon.net'

    Wow!…How interesting…i.truly appreciate yur imput. I totally respect yur stand on the Chicano avenue. Just finshed my script “TURCHA”…I plan to produce a slate of films base on the Hispanic avenue…to enlighten the other side of the coin…adios.

  2. hairyolivas@hotmail.com'

    YOLITZMA, you hit this right out of da park. Buen Trabajo y Muy Professional!! Buena swerte de tu vecino (from across da street at Mission Trail Village)!!!

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