Change Cinco de Mayo to Don Benito Juarez Day

By Joe Olvera

© 2011

Joe Olvera is a long-time journalist whose latest book is - Chicano Sin Fin: Memoirs of a Chicano Journalist

Change San Jacinto Plaza to Plaza de los Lagartos

With summer well under way and we can take time to ponder the passing of another Cinco de Mayo, it makes me wonder why we even celebrate the day as it is currently presented. We all know why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo – at least in Chicano communities, but, really, what significance does the date hold for Americans in general. Not much, I’d gather.

So, let me make a suggestion – instead of celebrating it as Cinco de Mayo, let’s celebrate it as Dia de Benito Juarez. After all, that’s what the day truly stands for, que no?

Let me explain. And, I’m not saying that we should not celebrate it as an American holiday, all I’m saying is that we should change the name so that it has more meaning to both Mexicans and Americans. I count myself as both. The late, great Chicano artist Manny Acosta used to say about me that I was “mas Mexicano que el pinole,” to which I agree.

Yet, I’m also an American. So, why should we change the name of Cinco de Mayo? Because, lately, it has been used in the United States in Chicano communities to celebrate it by holding store sales, by Chicanos imbibing and sucking on beer, and because Ballet Folklorico dancers are stomping on political reality.

On that fateful day, May 5, 1862, 4,000 Mexican soldiers, many of them peasants with very little weapons to their name, simply crushed the French Army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, about 100 miles east of Mexico City. The French, you see, had demanded that Mexico pay up its debt, or suffer the consequences.

The French were determined to turn Mexico into a monarchy, by installing Maximilian as the Emperor of Mexico who, with his wife, Carlota, would rule Mexico, under the auspices of French Emperor, Napoleon III, who hated the United States.

An important factor was that Napoleon III was only too willing to help the Southern Confederacy in its civil war against the North. The South, of course, wanted to preserve its system of slavery, while Abraham Lincoln and the North, wished to abolish it.

With Texas-born General Zaragosa and future dictator Porfirio Diaz, the Mexicans routed the French, marking a great victory for Don Benito Juarez and the Mexican Army. When the Battle of Puebla was over, many French were killed or wounded.

With the help of the United States, Mexico was soon able to expel the French, thus, ending any dreams Napoleon might’ve had of turning Mexico into a monarchy, and ending, also, his dreams of helping the Confederacy win its war against the north.

Thus, to me, renaming the famous date would be more in keeping with what actually happened on Cinco de Mayo, 1862. Don Benito Juarez, once the French were defeated and pushed out of Mexico, became the greatest president Mexico has ever seen.

He was a Zapotec Indian, who enjoyed the friendship of American president Abraham Lincoln. With his great victory at Puebla, he forced Napoleon III to focus more on his war in Mexico than on supplying confederate rebels for another year, thus helping the North win its fight to eliminate slavery. What could be more important than that?

Another name change that I would like to suggest is that we rename San Jacinto Plaza. Alligators or no alligators, the Plaza de los Lagartos has become synonymous with El Paso.

San Jacinto Plaza has an ominous ring to us Mexicans, and remember what Manny Acosta said about me being more Mexican than pinole? Well, yes, I am. To me, but not to the Daughters of the Texas Revolution, the name, San Jacinto Plaza sticks to my craw.

Quite frankly, I hate that name. You see, San Jacinto was the site of the battle between Texas and Mexico that resulted in the Aztec Republic losing the great state of Tejas in 1836. It marks the site where the idiotic Mexican General Manuel Lopez de Santa Anna surrendered to future Texas Governor Sam Houston.

Thus, the name San Jacinto Plaza is a constant reminder of the time when Mexico suffered a devastating loss to the Texians. It’s an embarrassment, you see. I realize that I may be barking up the wrong tree, because the argument today is whether to keep the alligators or to get rid of them, replacing ancient flesh and blood with flora and fauna to represent the historic creatures.

My argument goes further than that. Nobody else is condemning the name San Jacinto Plaza, but, then, I’ve always been sort of a maverick in that I really don’t care one way or the other where the alligators are concerned. Keep them, or get rid of them – it really doesn’t matter. But, to really remember the alligators, let’s change the name: Plaza de los Lagartos – has a nice, non-political ring to it, verdad?

Sin Fin

 

 

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