Cinco de Mayo

Faith & Spirit

Cinco de Mayo

The middle of the 19th Century was a time of great civil unrest in Mexico. The United States of America concluded a brief and arguably unjust war with Mexico. That war involved several young American officers, including Lieutenants Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. (Ironically, a young one-term Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln had voted against the war.) The defeated Mexican State was forced to cede to the U.S. what are now the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. Texas became an Independent Republic. Ten years later, an indigenous lawyer named Benito Juárez became President of Mexico for the first of what would be five terms. At the time, Mexico was as racist and segregated as its northern neighbor. Juárez’s election helped heal that division (although both nations still suffer from social divisions based on race).

The US of a and the US of Mexico share more than a common border. We are major trade partners, we have a common history, and we have become more and more culturally connected. About 80% of Mexico is Roman Catholic; about 20% of the United States is also Roman Catholic. By the middle of this century, the majority of Catholics in this country will be of Latino descent. Already 40% of the Catholics of Idaho are Latino.

We also share a common patroness, Mary. Under the title of the Immaculate Conception in the US, O.L. of Guadalupe in Mexico. Same person, different title.

In 1862, the United States was deeply divided by our own Civil War – the worst war in our history. Our government was in no position to help its southern neighbor from being invaded by the armies of France. On their way to conquer the capital of Mexico City, the French forces were briefly stopped by a battle at Puebla. On May 5th of that year, the Mexicans defeated the French. They won the battle, but lost the war. Maximillian von Hapsburg of Austria became Emperor of Mexico. That day, May 5th is in Spanish of course, Cinco de Mayo. Contrary to oft-stated opinion, it is not Mexican Independence Day. That date is the 16th of September. But most non-Spanish speakers have difficulty saying diez y seis de Sep-ti-em-bre. Today is not a holiday in Mexico. In recent decades, mostly in the US, Cinco de Mayo has become something a bit over the top. To be sure, Mexican food, culture and music are respected, but politically we have become embarrassingly disconnected. To paraphrase Pope Francis, we need to build bridges between us, not walls.

Cinco de Mayo is observed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even Tokyo, Japan. To say it is heavily commercialized is an understatement, and often patronizing.

Eventually, mutual necessity and reality will prevail between our two countries. We are too closely connected.

Officially, the southern nation is called Estatodos Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States) and ours in Spanish is Estados Unidos de America. Not only do we have a common border, history, and heavenly Patroness, we also share the same name.

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