Cinco de Mayo a bigger deal in the U.S. than Mexico

Cinco de Mayo a bigger deal in the U.S. than Mexico

Mexico gets quite a bum rap here in the states. The country has been invaded by numerous old-world powers and by the U.S., trampled and cut down to size so frequently they become an easy target for fatuous politicians with no more knowledge of Mexico or Mexicans than a snake has hips.

Cinco de Mayo, literally Fifth of May, is next week, and many of us will make some kind of tequila-soaked jab at joining in the celebration.

The holiday, which is a bigger deal in the U.S. than in Mexico proper, marks a victory in turning the forces of Napoleon III out of the country in 1862. Mexicans suspended debt payments to other nations in 1861, and French, Spanish and English troops marched right in to try and slap some coin out of them.

The English and Spanish soon left as it wasn’t worth the trouble. The French stayed on, hoping to weaken American influence south of the border and turn Mexico into a monarchy led by the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The French took a beating at the battle of Puebla, and Cinco de Mayo celebrates that victory, even though the French kept on fighting for a few more years before taking their cigarettes and heading back to Paris.

Because of the large Mexican population there from the earliest days, California was the starting point for Unites States celebrations of the day, and the rest of the country got on board after Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy opened the way for better relations with nations in the Caribbean.

The usual celebratory dish for Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is a poblano pepper in mole sauce, a rich, dark brown sauce with an ingredient list as long as a Pontiac, with Mexican chocolate playing a central flavor role.

Mole is something I’ve never tackled outside of buying it in a jar and thinning it a bit, but it is most surely delicious with just about anything you might pair it with.

Not counting fast food, I can think of at least six Mexican restaurants off the top of my head, which we are fortunate to find in our backyard, plus a great many pop-ups and food trucks. That makes us extremely lucky as the LatinX community has matured enough to stabilize and begin sharing more of their culture and cuisine.

As I would bet you had misconceptions about the origins of the day, Cinco de Mayo in the United States has become more of a generalized celebration of Mexican culture. Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston make a really big deal of it, closing streets and throwing a big party, more so than in Tijuana.

Cinco de Mayo has been a federally recognized holiday in America since 2005, but it is not an official holiday in Mexico. We celebrate pretty heavily in the U.S., consuming 81 million pounds of avocados and more tequila than any other nation on earth that day. That’s a lot of guacamole and margaritas.

Everyone has their favorite recipe for guacamole, and this is the one I’ve worked on and fussed with over the years. It probably has more ingredients than a purist would like, but I like my guac a little chunky and with a little added color.

In taking the pit out of the avocado, turn it upside down and push from the back after halving it. Sticking a big knife into the pit sends a lot of people to the ER every year. The injury even has a name, “avocado hand.”


2 Hass avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons red onion, finely diced

1 or 2 Serrano chilies, seeded and finely diced (or to taste)

2 tablespoons Roma tomato, finely diced

Cilantro leaves, chopped, to taste

2 or more tablespoons fresh lime juice

Small pinch of cumin powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mash together with a fork. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and lime juice amounts if needed.

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