Today, millions of Americans are chugging Coronas and shooting tequila in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Which is strange, because Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that commemorates the May 5, 1862 Battle of Puebla, during which an outnumbered Mexican army defeated a much larger, much better-equipped French army that hadn’t been defeated in almost fifty years. Yet despite no presence whatsoever of the United States in this conflict, Cinco de Mayo has, over time, become a more popular celebration in the US than in Mexico. I find this to be a bit peculiar. It would be like if on Doce de Febrero (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday), the Mexicans chugged more Bud Lite and shot more Jack Daniel’s than did Americans.
Or like if the Jamaicans commemorated the 53 B.C. Battle of Carrhae, during which the powerful Roman army, under Marcus Licinius Crassus, failed in its invasion of the Iranian civilization of Parthia. You might be thinking that this comparison is a bit of a stretch, since while Jamaica (and virtually all of the modern world) has little to do with the Parthian War, there are 28.3 million Mexican-Americans living in the United States, some of whom might be direct descendants of the brave men who fought at Puebla.
But you’d be wrong. Because the average participant in Cinco de Mayo festivities is not a Chicano paying homage to the history of his ancestors’ homeland. It’s college students embracing another opportunity to procrastinate studying for that final. And middle-class workers seeking to forget about the monotony of the workweek. Basically, it’s just people who want to get wasted, pretend they aren’t alcoholics, and yell broken, out-of-context phrases in Spanish.
So, noting that, why shouldn’t the Jamaicans celebrate the Battle of Carrhae? It’s just as random and arbitrary as Americans celebrating the Battle of Puebla. Jamaicans could hold “Serfs and Kings” themed parties, where they’d drink wine and converse in Aramaic. And farm. And trade silk. And defeat Roman armies.
Because honestly, what could make a cultural holiday more meaningful than another nation’s citizens using it as an excuse to hit the bars on a Tuesday night?