Chips, salsa and lots of tequila -- that's the way most people think of Cinco de Mayo. But a determined group of Latino activists and organizers are trying to reclaim the true meaning of the holiday, and to combat the barrage of alcohol advertising aimed at Hispanic youth.
The celebration is truly an American tradition, in honor of a Mexican battle. The drunken slosh-fest concept came much later, gracias to alcohol companies.
A quick history:
Outnumbered Mexican forces held off and eventually defeated the invading forces of what was, at the time, the world's finest army -- the French -- in the Battle of Puebla. The time was 1862, and the victory sent a shot of hope through Mexican- Americans north of the border, who saw it as a blow to the Confederacy. (France backed the Confederates. Mexico backed Lincoln and the Union.)
They celebrated with parades (no word about tequila). The initial fervor eventually faded, and so did widespread public commemorations.
Members of the Chicano movement tried to rekindle interest in the '60s and '70s, as a celebration of cultural pride. Then, in the 1980s, local groups hoping to put on Cinco de Mayo events went searching for money. Beer and liquor companies saw an opportunity to enter the booming Hispanic market. They wound up seizing the day.
"Every year, then, they would have alcohol companies advertising, and then alcohol actually being sold at the celebrations, and this is what eventually it evolved into largely a kind of a drinking holiday," said Jose Alamillo, associate professor of Chicano-Latino Studies at California State University Channel Islands. "Because now we're finding people go to a restaurant or bar on Cinco de Mayo because they think that's what you do on this day."
Now, though, Hispanic organizations across the country are rallying to reclaim Cinco de Mayo.
The Cinco de Mayo Con Orgullo Coalition was one of the first to launch a nationwide campaign to promote alcohol-free fiestas. They began in 2001 in San Diego and now coordinate with groups in other cities, said Prevention Specialist Claudia Baltazar, "to try to rescue the celebration and inform the community about the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo. So we try to create awareness about what the alcohol industry has done with this cultural celebration."
It's a battle of particular significance for Latino youth.
"They have millions and billions of dollars to invest in advertising, so it's a hard battle to fight but were doing our work here in the community to create awareness," Baltazar said.
In a study covering 2003-2004, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) found Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) found tthat Hispanic youth are bombarded with alcohol ads at rates far higher than their non-Hispanic peers.
"Hispanic 12- to 20-year-olds in the United States saw 20% more alcohol advertising per capita in English-language magazines in 2004 than did young people of this age group in general. In 2003, they saw 7% more of this advertising than did all 12- to-20-year-olds," the group reported.
"While 12 of the top 15 programs among Hispanic youth ran alcohol advertising in 2002, this number grew to 14 in 2003 and 2004."
Even more stunning:
"Hispanic youth heard 272% more radio advertising per capita for Beck's Beer that year than did non- Hispanic youth, as well as 194% more for Coors Beer and 78% more for Budweiser." In California this Saturday, Chula Vista, National City and Solana Beach boast alcohol-free Cinco de Mayo fiestas.
And, this year, LULAC and the Maru Montero Dance Company are hosting "The National Cinco de Mayo Festival: Salud en Cinco de Mayo! "The National Cinco de Mayo Festival: Salud en Cinco de Mayo!" on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Events include a concert with Luis Enrique, and a chance to join in as they try to break the Guinness World Record for the largest Zumba class.
But the focus is primarily on health. They'll have free eye, dental and physical exams, dance clinics and cooking demonstrations.
It's a healthy change from what for most non- Latinos has become Drinko de Mayo, a day for too many margaritas. This year, these Hispanic groups hope that when Latinos say, "Salud!" they really mean it.
Source: Carlos Harrison