The origin of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States, says UCLA scholar


Dr. David Hayes-Bautista is a proud native of California, a demographic epidemiologist specializing in the health of Latin Americans. He is a distinguished professor of medicine and the director of the Center for the Study of Latin American Health and Culture at UCLA. In 2012 he wrote “El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition”. He admits that before 2010 his own knowledge and respect for the holiday was different. He remembers how he celebrated as a student at UC Berkeley.

“How did we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in 1971? We had a Seltzer concert with Ray Barreto… what did we know?” said Dr Hayes-Bautista.

A common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. It’s not. On May 5, 1862, Mexico defeated the French in Puebla.

Hayes-Bautista knew this and he describes how he stumbled upon records that offered the big picture.

“To get specific information on demographics because I needed to understand the population, I was reading Spanish newspapers published in California,” he said. “I was looking for birth, marriage and death notices, which are your main data variables to look at.”

Stories in the Spanish language newspapers began to skip pages.

“As I was looking for these reviews I ended up reading the whole Gold Rush in Spanish and read the whole history of race and slavery in 1850, the Dred Scott decision, for example. , John Brown walking on Harper’s Ferry, in Spanish. That’s what Latinos here in Los Angeles knew about what was going on in the United States, ”he said.

Then he read the story of the French who approached Mexico City.

“Napoleon III had already chosen an emperor, it would be Maximilian of Austria. They were going to set up a monarchy in Mexico and then the monarchy could become an ally of the slave states during the American Civil War. here in California, ”said Hayes-Bautista. “California, part of Mexico, had been free territory since 1810.” Dr Hayes-Bautista then reads the news of Mexico’s victory. “Three weeks later, on May 22, news arrived of what happened on May 5: the French did not reach Mexico City. They were arrested. Dead, defeated at the Battle of Puebla,” a he said, adding the triumph has significance in the context of the American Civil War. “You had Latinos from California, Californios, who went to Mexico and fought with Juarez’s army, and you have Latinos here who joined the US military,” he said.

“The Latinos basically reused this news here to show the world where they were at on American Civil War issues. They immediately took to the streets, they put on huge parades to let the world know that Latinos are opposed to slavery, support freedom, oppose white supremacy, supported racial equality, opposed the elitist plantation regime, supported government of the people, by the people and for the people ” , he said. “Every year Latinos used the Cinco de Mayo and their protests or marches, their speeches, their rallies, to let the world know, here’s where we are on these issues.”

Hayes-Bautista had started avoiding Cinco de Mayo celebrations, because of those who marketed it. But that changed after his research.

“I was very moved; I was actually… my heart was rising, I had a lump in my throat while reading,” he recalls. “Those are their words, and that’s what Latinos here knew, and that’s why they’re starting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.”

He says the true origin has died with those who first celebrated Cinco de Mayo in 1862, changing over the years. Then there was a period of new immigration at the start of the 20th century.

“They never got the full story, but they got the idea for you to do something. That’s when they put on mariachi music instead of old California music. They put on dancing ‘adelitas’ instead of the Civil War iconography because that’s what they knew well, ”he said.“ Many historians who don’t know the full story say so. fact that Mexican immigrants brought Cinco de Mayo during this period 1910-1930. But no, they found it here. And I can document it, “said Hayes-Bautista. It’s a story that he shares with sincere passion and in great detail with everyone who will listen to it.

“Now I know. It was about human rights originally. And I’m just asking people to remember that,” he said. “Take it back to where it started because we’re still fighting these same battles – 150 years later, the American Civil War is not over. And just as we played a fundamental role in the original American Civil War in the 1860s, we will play a fundamental role in resolving these issues of race, citizenship and participation in American society once and for all. ”

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