While many Chula Vista and National City residents may be taking advantage of the half-priced margaritas that South Bay bars and restaurants have to offer on May 5, will they know what they are celebrating?
“I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t think here in the states, here in America or locally, we ever had a good understanding, a good identity of what Cinco de Mayo was all about,” Victor Chavez, Southwestern College professor of history, said.
“Cinco de Mayo is not the independence of Mexico. It was a defeat of French forces in the early 1860s.”
Cinco de Mayo is a day, Chavez said, that should be used as a time of reflection and not celebration, much like how America uses Veteran’s Day to reflect and remember its veterans.
Cinco de Mayo is a historical date in which a small group of the Mexican army defeated the French at the battle of Puebla in 1862.
Chavez said the unofficial holiday is more of a commercial marketing tool than a day of remembrance.
“In the late ’70s, early ’80s, the commercial industry in America took advantage of it and decided to promulgate support for this celebratory moment and make a few dollars out of it,” he said.
“It’s sort of like Christmas and Santa Claus. If it weren’t for the commercialization of Santa Claus and Christmas, I don’ know how popular Christmas would be.”
Daniel Hurd, owner of Eastlake Tavern and Bowl, said Cinco de Mayo brings a slight increase to his restaurant, though many of his regular consumers prefer to celebrate elsewhere.
“There are a lot of people who like to celebrate (Cinco de Mayo) in downtown or Old Town,” Hurd said.
National City Councilman Luis Natividad was an activist during the Chicano movement of the 1960s.
He said Cinco de Mayo isn’t really celebrated in Mexico as much as it is in California.
“A lot of people don’t know the historical context of that date and it’s not even celebrated too much, even in Mexico,” Natividad said.
“If they do (celebrate it) it’s because we’ve done it over here.”
Chavez agrees that Mexico’s victory over the French forces is more recognized in the Mexican-American Southwest communities than it is in Mexico.
Natividad said that Mexican beer companies are jumping on the Cinco de Mayo marketing bandwagon to promote their beer.
Chavez said his job as a professor is to educate his students about Cinco de Mayo and not give his students the party version they see from the marketing industry.
“If it was not for the commercial interest picking it up and literally using their financial resources to market their products, Cinco de Mayo would probably not have been celebrated in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.”