For those with the slightest familiarity with Spanish, Cinco de Mayo can be one of the easiest holidays to remember. While most know when this holiday is, not many of us know the reason behind the celebration beyond its origin in Mexico. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan has worked very hard this year toward eradicating this problem with a public celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican Independence Day. It is a national holiday that recalls the defeat of French troops by a Mexican army in 1862. That year, French troops invaded Mexico with the intention of establishing a European monarchy with their highly trained soldiers. Known as the Battle of Puebla, the French troops encountered a Mexican army east of Mexico City, thinking that it would be an easy victory. Although greatly outnumbered, the Mexican troops fought valiantly for two hours, resulting in an unexpected French retreat. The French would return soon after the battle and occupy Mexico for another five years, but the victory achieved at the Battle of Puebla serves as a symbol of Mexican unity and strength. Cinco de Mayo celebrations across the nation typically consist of parades, picnics, beauty contests, and even sporting events.
Since Cinco de Mayo fell on a Saturday this year, its celebration here in UC Irvine was hosted Thursday, May 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the flagpoles. A modest stage was set for entertainment with traditional Mexican paintings, and tables were placed in front of Aldrich Hall offering Mexican food. A live mariachi band helped event-goers enjoy their meal while experiencing another aspect of this vibrant holiday. Unlike your typical rock band, the mariachi band consisted of a unique mixture of instruments, including clarinets, trumpets, trombones and even a tuba. In addition, a space was provided in front of the band welcoming all to dance. Meanwhile, the more bashful were able to watch fellow anteaters engage in their own cultural expressions.
The highlight of the event, however, was a visit by guest speaker Mixpe Ley. Ley is a prominent Chicana poet and activist who teaches courses at UCLA. Chaired by Gracie Arguelles, this year’s event reached much of the UCI student population and proved to be a success.
MEChA is definitely one of the more active organizations on campus. With an open membership to all UCI students, this organization focuses on integrating the development of a Chicano political identity into college education. The Cinco de Mayo celebration is just one of the events that make up ‘Mes de la Raza 2007,’ a group of themed events hosted by MEChA. Upcoming events include workshops, mother and family appreciation days, and more motivational speakers to help educate the community on Chicano/a issues.
For more information on their events, go to the MEChA meetings every Wednesday from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Cross-Cultural Center.