Juan Contreras, left, and Graciela Lerma hang up a flag at Waite High School for the Cinco de Mayo holiday. Some Latinos say small festivals like the one at Waite capture the meaning of the holiday, which celebrates the Mexican victory over the French in 1862.
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While Wall Street marketing companies and major corporations plan to spend millions this week to woo Latino customers during Cinco de Mayo, some believe smaller festivals like the one run by Waite High School students is closer to the true meaning of the holiday.
Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for "Fifth of May," celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when a much smaller Mexican Army defeated the French Army, considered a world power at the time.
Some confuse Cinco de Mayo with Mexican Independence Day, which was Sept. 15, 1810.
A number of local Latinos complain that Cinco de Mayo has come to be remembered more for drinking beer than the courage of Mexican soldiers.
"Some companies think you can pitch a tent, throw a couple of kegs under it, and call it celebrating Cinco de Mayo," said Robert Torres, director of Toledo's Office of Latino Affairs. "It's nothing more than commercialization. There's no education about what happened at Puebla."
Alysia Martin puts streamers along the stage of the Waite High School auditorium for the Cinco de Mayo celebration there.
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Parades and fiestas mark the way many people celebrate the holiday in Mexico, something similar to how Memorial Day is celebrated here, said Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz, an assistant professor of Spanish, Mexican, and Chicana/o Cultures at Trinity University in San Antonio.
"It's a holiday celebrating the strength and courage of the [Mexican] soldiers in defeating, at that time, one of the most powerful armies in the world," Ms. Urquijo-Ruiz said. "There are parades and fiestas, but it's very much a family holiday. Mexicans are very proud of Cinco de Mayo."
But companies are familiar with the burgeoning Latino demographics in the United States. Cinco de Mayo, though it's a Mexican holiday, has provided a way for many companies to pitch products and access the emerging Hispanic market, said Kenneth Herbst, a marketing professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
"Hispanics are the most brand loyal group in the country," Mr. Herbst said. "The celebration and holiday is a means to an end. It's a way to tap into a certain community. And if a company is able to do that, it can create great profits in the process."
Toledo council President Louis Escobar said the heavy pitches by beer and other companies, depending on perspective, is a sign that the Latino community has arrived and is being recognized.
"There was a time when people were ashamed to be Mexican," Mr. Escobar said. "Cinco de Mayo is becoming like other accepted holidays. I liken it to St. Patrick's Day, where everyone is Irish for a day."
Mr. Escobar said the Battle of Puebla helped Mexico unify and establish its identity as a country. He said the Cinco de Mayo celebration could be used the same way to identify the up-and-coming Latino culture in America.
For 16 years, Waite's Hispanic Culture Club has put on a Cinco de Mayo celebration for the students and the public. Antonio Meza Estrada, the Mexican consulate from Detroit, Antonio Meza Estrada, will speak at their program tomorrow.
The public celebration runs from 6 to 10 p.m. at the school, 301 Morrison Drive.
Students like Edgar Palacios, 18, a senior who lived in Mexico until four-and-a-half years ago, said Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery of Mexican soldiers and the people of Mexico.
He said he didn't see a big concern with the way companies market the holiday.
"They're just using it to sell products," he said. "It's just another day to celebrate."
Sierra Esquivel, 17, also a senior, said she felt the companies owed it to the public to help educate people about the holiday. "I think there is a lot of misinformation out there," Sierra said.
Mr. Herbst said he believe companies are sensitive about a backlash from the way the holiday is advertised, but added that they are far from a saturation point.
"I think a lot of companies are conscious about positive support," Mr. Herbst said. "There can be a boomerang effect. They don't want to make [Latinos] feel different, but special. As far as exposure, I'm not sure companies have done nearly enough in catering to the Hispanic community."
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