May 05, 2022
I received a text from my sister that her family are making tacos to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Smithsonian magazine wrote on the origin of the taco in a 2012 issue. The taco crossed the US border along with the silver miners immigrating from Mexico. “Taco” was the word the 18th century miners used to describe the small charges they used to extricate ore. Tacos apparently began in the homes of working-class communities as inexpensive ways to feed their families. Their popularity spread to the US along with Mexican migrants working in mines and railroads at the turn of the 20th century. The first mention taco in a US newspaper was in early 1905. Taco popularity increased when it began to use American ingredients and is now firmly in place as a staple of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the US.
When I looked online, I found Cinco de Mayo (Spanish “Fifth of May”) is a yearly celebration held on May 5. The festival commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s General Ignacio Zaragoza’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 which provided a needed morale boost for the Mexicans. President Juárez declared the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla as a national holiday on May 9, 1862, called the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo”. On the downside, Zaragoza died from an illness several months after the battle, and a larger French force ultimately defeated the Mexican army at the Second Battle of Puebla the following year. The commemoration is no longer observed as a national holiday in Mexico, but public schools are closed on May 5. The day is still an official holiday in the State of Puebla, where the Battle took place, and in the neighboring State of Veracruz.
Cinco de Mayo is now associated with the celebration of Mexican American culture in the US. Celebrations began in (Mexican) California in 1863 and have been observed annually since. The day gained nationwide popularity in the 1980’s with the advertising campaigns by beer, wine, and tequila companies, and now generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl. Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken by non-Mexican Americans for Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16, and commemorates the Cry of Dolores in 1810, which initiated the war of Mexican independence from Spain. Cinco de Mayo is featured in the entertainment media and has become a global celebration of Mexican culture, cuisine, and heritage. Nothing like tacos and a good party.
THOUGHTS: The popularity of the taco in the US can be attributed to Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell. Bell popularized the u-shape, hard shelled taco made in advance to provide an inexpensive “fast” food. As Taco Bell grew in popularity among non-Mexican Americans so did the taco, and the popularity of the taco sparked campaigns for the general (unofficial) celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Tex-Mex is just one examples of the many ethnic foods enjoyed in the US that are nothing like the original. When we explore the original versions, we are brought closer to the culture from which they sprang. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.