Forgiving and Forgetting

..While in the course of picking up a “pie” at the local sandwich shop last evening, I found myself witness to a discussion between the proprietor and a customer.  The topic was “Cinco de Mayo,”  that often mentioned but seldom understood holiday that rings its little bell annually on the 5th of May.
..It seemed that some customer had stopped by the shop earlier and made a statement of sorts about Cinco de Mayo, leaving the boss and his sole remaining customer to attempt to hash out just why in the world we here in the U.S. of A. would be inclined to celebrate what has usually been interpreted in these parts as a major Mexican holiday, possibly Mexican Independence Day. The day when in some obscure battle the Mexicans finally vanquished their Spanish occupiers and proclaimed the land their own. The boss was intoning that this spread of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo must have to do with the spread of Hispanic peoples and culture into the U.S.,  and I had the feeling that he would have soon mentioned both the Border Patrol and razor wire fences had not his munching cohort chimed in with a fairly erudite interruption, noting  that he was pretty sure CdM was not Mexican Independence Day, and further remembering that he thought  it had something to do with the French.
..At that point the instigator of the discussion, a boy about 9 years old, returned to the shop to pick up the food he had ordered on his earlier visit. He was accompanied by a friend, a black  lad about the same age. The white kid was wearing a “Cinco de Mayo”  T-shirt and a baseball cap, and the black kid was sporting an interestingly lopsided fro. I might have guessed they had been riding bikes, playing baseball, or stepping on ants, and not yet  recognizing  that the shirt had triggered the discussion, I commented on it, saying, “Hey..this guy’s got a Cinco de Mayo shirt!”
..He looked up and squeaked a little “yea”, as though he couldn’t quite believe all the attention his shirt was getting, and probably didn’t want to revisit,  this time with an additional enthusiastic adult,  the history and modern rural overtones of the expression on the tee his mother had set out for him that morning.
..Perhaps he even knew the history. Perhaps his mom had  told him not just that  Cinco de Mayo means the fifth of May, but also that it was the French, in fact, who took a licking at the Battle of Puebla, in Mexico, on May 5, 1862.  That sometime prior to this battle the Mexican government, nearly insolvent after years of war (including one w/ the U.S)  and owing huge debts to England, Spain and France, decided to suspend their loan repayments, causing great puffings and armada launchings from all three countries toward Mexico. Negotiations ensued, and  the Brits and Spaniards  were persuaded to withdraw their invasion forces. The French, under Napoleon III,  decided that their interests, including the destuction of the union of the United States, would be better served by invading Mexico and installing a French emperor. Napoleon would thus be able to much more easily supply the Confederate Army in the ongoing U.S. Civil War.
..Very early in the campaign, the French were dealt a crushing blow at Puebla, though their number was twice that of the Mexican defenders. It was a huge moral victory for the Mexicans, strengthening national pride and the resistance movement, and delaying the ultimate success of the French in establishing their emperor. During the year between the Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo and the installation of  Maximillian as emperor, the United States government built a massive army to fight the Confederates, win the U.S. Civil War in 1865,  then kick back and aid the Mexicans in booting Maximillian in 1867.
..As I walked out with my pizza, I asked the kid what his shirt said at the bottom, in letters almost as large as Cinco de Mayo. He pulled it taut so I could read  “Aeropostale”,  a ubiquitous name in apparel, certainly. The French word for airmail.  The clothing company founded in NYC by Bryan Alberto, and named after a French/Latin airmail company that flew in the 1920’s.
..It seems that Cinco de Mayo is now celebrated with more fervor in the U.S  than it is in Mexico, a celebration of Mexican heritage and a celebration of the spirit of freedom that finally prevailed in the U.S in the early 1860’s.

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