Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth of May, is possibly the best-known Mexican holiday in the United States. It’s a day for fiestas, dancing and Mexican beer. But North Americans may not realize that the celebration takes place almost exclusively north of the border.

“Many people confuse it with Independence Day, which is Sept. 16,” said Patty Croonquist, a language teacher at Iowa Central Community College. “That was only a battle that was won by the Mexicans, so they celebrate.”

“It’s a celebration of – I think it was the late 1800s, Mexico was invaded by France,” said Eduardo Matias, who lived in Mexico until he was 10. “Cinco de Mayo was the day the battle took place. The battle of Puebla. The Mexicans – mostly peasants, really – fought against the French.

“I know the Mexicans were outnumbered. As far as I know it was 4,000 Mexicans, against 6,500 or 6,600 French. Napoleon’s army.”

The unlikely victory is still celebrated in the town of Puebla and the surrounding area, but gets little recognition in Mexico as a whole.

“I don’t know why we celebrate it here in the states. In Mexico, it’s not a big date,” said Patricia Mondragon, owner of Monterrey Mexican Store.

Matias said, “Independence Day is a really big deal. But, from my time living down there, I don’t remember much about (Cinco de Mayo). It was just another day.”

The celebration grew in the 1960s as a way to celebrate Mexican-American heritage, according to National Geographic. Then, in the 1980s it grew further as it became commercialized.

Matias said some towns with larger Mexican populations hold celebrations for Cinco de Mayo, but Fort Dodge doesn’t because the Hispanic population is from a wider variety of countries.

“I know people dance in the streets. They wear really neat dresses,” he said. “I saw one in the Festival of Nations (at Iowa Central). They have Mariachi bands and authentic dances from Mexico. There’s food and drinks.”

“Around here it is getting a little bit bigger,” Croonquist said. “Spanish teachers around here, we acknowledge it because it’s such a big deal. At Iowa Central, we have a lot of kids that come from Storm Lake, Perry, Denison, and from Clarion, a lot of Hispanic kids.”

“It’s going to need food – everything in our culture is food, and drinks,” she added.

What kind of food?

“The typical things, the tamales, and they have one the call mole poblano. It’s a typical food around in that area,” she said.

Mole poblano is a sauce made from cocoa powder and other spices, she said, often served on chicken.

Tres Amigos Mexican restaurant serves chicken or enchiladas with mole. They’ve also brought out some new menu items just in time for the Fifth, said assistant manager Cesar Acosta. The new burritos banderas, or “flag burritos,” have red, white and green salsas on top to mimic the Mexican flag.

Acosta is originally from Mexico City, and has lived in the United States for about 18 years.

“It’s not a big day in Mexico. A more big day is Sept. 16, but here in the U.S.A., I like Cinco de Mayo,” Acosta said. “People here like Cinco de Mayo. It’s fine.”

To celebrate, the restaurant had drink specials on Friday and Saturday, he said. There was also live music and dancing Saturday night. Today, food and drinks are half off.

“It’s very busy, we have many specials,” he said. “Muchas margaritas.”