SEBRING — To some, Cinco de Mayo may be another day to party, like St. Patrick’s Day or Labor Day.
While it is a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States each May 5, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations, it has a basis in history.
It is not Mexico’s “Independence Day,” although a lot of people have gotten that confused. It’s actually a celebration of when the Mexicans defeated the French, who, in 1861, tried to use the fact that Mexico couldn’t pay its debts to European powers as an opportunity to grab an American colony.
Mexico’s “Independence Day” is celebrated Sept. 16, the day priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave his famous “Grito de Dolores” (“Cry of Dolores”) speech in 1810, a call to arms and a declaration of war against the Spanish colonial government.
Naturally, 50 years later, Mexicans would not want to capitulate to another European power. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. Also known as “Battle of Puebla Day,” History.com notes it as a “relatively minor” holiday in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration.
Events include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festivities, but for many, it is a day like any other. As it is not a federal holiday, banks and stores remain open.
North of the border, it also is not a day off for anyone. However, it has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage, especially for cities and communities with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
Awareness of the holiday began in the 1960s, and today will also include parades and parties, to include regional music (mariachi, ranchera, grupero, and Tejano), folk dancing and, since no good festival happens without food, traditional Mexican recipes, such as tacos and mole poblano.
¡Celebrar!¿Quieres venir a la fiesta?, or to say it in English: “Do you want to come to the party?” There are a few to choose from, most of which are hosted by local restaurants that specialize in Mexican, Mexican-American or “Tex-Mex” cuisine. Some have advertised live music on Wednesday night and/or late-night parties for this weekend, since Cinco de Mayo falls on a Wednesday.
There’s even a bunch of businesses in downtown Lake Placid preparing to have a “Cinco de Mayo” mass ribbon-cutting starting at noon Wednesday at Wet Dogs Brewing, if you have your lunch hour free.
If you want to do up the holiday at home, YouTube has several Hispanic chefs with their own channels, Food Network features many Mexican and Mexican-American chefs, and even live-streaming services like Netflix have their own content on Mexican culture and cuisine, including a series called “Taco Chronicles” on all the regional flavors of the humble taco. If you don’t habla Español, make sure you set up your video for subtitles.
You might also visit your favorite source for recipes, whether that’s an international cookbook or a website, and find some simple dishes to try out on your own. Some basic advice among the chefs and cookbooks is to buy and use only fresh ingredients, preferably from a Mexican food market, and follow the instructions carefully your first time.
Also, if you want to try handling jalapeños, serranos or any other type of hot pepper, use very little and make sure you handle it only while wearing gloves, turning the gloves inside-out once you finish, and never, ever touching your face or eyes until after you have washed and rinsed your hands thoroughly. Highlands News-Sun staff know this from experience.
Of course, you can leave the cooking to the restaurants and order a cervesa or Coca (-Cola) to go with it. Add a lime to your drink, and don’t have too many to make sure you get home safely.