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Americans Take Over Cinco De Mayo

May 5, 2000

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ In Mexican history, today’s Cinco de Mayo holiday commemorates an 1862 victory by a small army of Mexican patriots and peasants over stronger French forces.

Aside from sober battle re-enactments and political pronouncements, Cinco de Mayo is hardly a holiday in Mexico, leaving many immigrants scratching their heads over the growing popularity of the day across the United States.

``When Mexicans first come to the United States and somebody mentions that they’re all excited about some Cinco de Mayo festival, they say ‘What?’,″ said Carlos E. Garcia, president of a consumer marketing firm in Burbank. ``It would be like Canadians making a big deal out of the Boston tea party.″

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day _ a common misconception among Americans.

Since the 1960s, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a major event in Hispanic-heavy communities in large part for two reasons: a push by Chicano activists who wanted a Mexican cultural event celebrated in schools, and marketers who saw an opportunity to capitalize on Mexico’s reputation for fun.

``It’s a non-event made into a big deal by marketing,″ said Garcia, who operates Garcia Research Associates, which targets U.S. Hispanic consumers.

The selling of the holiday will help double margarita sales at an El Torito Mexican restaurant in San Diego, where General Manager Jacob Rivera is organizing a tortilla toss _ a chance to win free meals by lobbing a corn tortilla into a sombrero.

Rivera, who can’t recall celebrating Cinco de Mayo during his childhood in Tijuana, is good-natured about the party. He sees it as a chance to tell his mostly non-Mexican patrons a bit about history _ even if it’s only to explain that Mexican Independence Day really falls on Sept. 16.

With its fun-spirited reputation, Cinco de Mayo has become a sort of Latin St. Patrick’s Day.

The two days are marketed in much the same way by Ralphs Grocery Co., which operates 450 supermarkets across California. Sales of corned beef and cabbage one month, then chips, salsa and margarita mix in another, said company spokesman Terry O’Neil.

It’s a day popular across ethnic lines, he said, ``like St. Patrick’s Day, on that day, everybody is Irish: On Cinco de Mayo, everybody is Mexican.″

Cinco de Mayo also is the biggest day of the year for avocados. Americans will eat 17 million pounds of the green fruit _ or 34 million avocados, mostly in the form of guacamole, according to the California Avocado Commission. Super Bowl Sunday comes in second to May 5.

Sales also will jump for Jose Cuervo, the world’s top-selling tequila, said Steve Goldstein of UDV North America, the brand’s importers and marketers.

The company has promotions planned across the country, including a ``Tijuana Taxi″ to bars and restaurants in the Los Angeles area, a T-shirt giveaway in New York and the dropping of a ``margarita bar″ billed as the ``Sink-O de Mayo″ into waters off Miami’s South Beach.

While some Latinos feel Mexican culture warrants a holiday that promotes history more than hangovers, many applaud the day for being merry.

Maria Gisela Butler, a Chicano history professor at San Diego State University, said she used to ask students to list five things they knew about Mexico. Common responses were tacos, graffiti, crime or drugs _ ``anything that was negative. This is what they associated with Mexico.″

Cinco de Mayo may promote superficial concepts of Mexico, she said, ``but at least it’s something positive.″


On the Net:

Mexican presidency’s Web site, with history of Battle of Puebla: http://world.presidencia.gob.mx/index.htm

World Book site on Cinco de Mayo and Mexican culture: http://www.worldbook.com/fun/cinco/html/cinco.htm

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