By Assemblywoman Shirley Horton
On Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Americans across California commemorate the important victory of the small, loosely organized Mexican army over the invading French forces of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The occasion has become an important cultural and historical celebration of freedom both in Mexico and the United States.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not an observance of Mexico’s independence as a nation like our own Fourth of July. It is a celebration of the right of the people of Mexico to chart their own course as a nation. Turning back the larger, more powerful French invaders became an important, character-building experience for the people of Mexico, a defining moment that as a nation they could determine their own affairs through bravery and determination.
Cinco de Mayo’s widespread celebration in the United States is testament to the importance of Mexican Americans to our American experience. At neighborhood celebrations, community parades, church services, and college lectures we celebrate our common values - the right to live and work in freedom, and to choose our own destiny - with the Mexican people.
In the U.S., we typically celebrate Cinco de Mayo by watching mariachi bands and folkloric dancers perform, enjoying traditional Mexican cuisine, and learning more about the rich cultural traditions of the people of Mexico. But the importance of the history behind the holiday demands that Cinco De Mayo be a great celebration of the relationship our two nations have enjoyed for the past one hundred and fifty years.
Though our common history began with great tension that eventually led to war, our experience since then has been one of both friendship and shared values of liberty, democracy, and prosperity. What binds our two countries perhaps more than any other bordering nations is the large number of immigrants from Mexico who have been such an important influence on our economy, politics, and culture.
Overcoming language barriers and initial hostility, the experience of Mexican Americans in the U.S. has been one of hard work and strength in helping to keep our economy growing, truly embodying the California dream. During the past fifty years, Mexican Americans have become the leaders of tomorrow: family business owners, teachers, and political leaders bringing important social changes that have moved this great State forward.
On Cinco de Mayo this year, let us not only celebrate the unique beauty of the Mexican culture, but also the values of freedom and prosperity that unite our two nations.
Assemblywoman Shirley Horton (R-Chula Vista) represents the 78th Assembly District, which includes portions of the Cities of San Diego and Chula Vista and the County of San Diego, as well as the communities of Lemon Grove and Spring Valley.