Sunday, May 4, 2008


Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is not Mexico's Independence Day, as many in the USA believe. That would be September 16th. The celebration of Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexicans, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, defeated the French. It wasn't the end of the French in Mexico, however. They went on to occupy Mexico City the following year and install Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico -- but were finally ousted in 1867.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mostly a regional holiday celebrated in Puebla, but in the United States it's a day of Mexican pride, and an excuse to push Margaritas and guacamole to gringos. As for Margaritas -- the original was supposedly created in Acapulco in 1948. The recipe is pretty basic, but man can people screw it up:


1 oz fresh lime juice
1 dash of salt
1 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)
2 oz Tequila

Forget those frothy green Slurpees in Americanized Mexican restaurants. You know the places -- where the food is a bland soupy brown for American tastes, and the walls are festooned with all the Mexican cliches, sombreros and bullfight posters, and maybe Speedy Gonzalez. A real Margarita is not blended, and certainly not made from those horrible lime mixes. Not surprisingly, the best Margaritas I've tasted were in Mexico. The worst -- by far -- were in Vancouver, British Columbia, and looked and tasted like anti-freeze. They also had the worst Nachos, which consisted of old corn chips, canned beans, a few shreds of yellow cheese, and the bad parts of a withered tomato. I should have ordered Canadian food, I guess.

In this age of xenophobia and anti-immigrant "speechifying" by politicians hungry for votes, it's good to look at Mexico as more than a theme park, a vacationland, and a source of cheap labor. Mexico is so much more, especially away from the border towns and resorts and the slab tourist hotels on the coasts. The clash of Europeans and native peoples has created a deep and varied culture. The clash between the rich and poor continues, as exemplified by the Zapatista movement.

Here is a clip from Lonely Planet, where a traveler speaks with some Zapatistas (members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or ESLN), an armed indigenous group based in Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico. The traveler and the revolutionaries have an interesting meeting.

For more on the Zapatistas, click here.

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