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April 27, 2004 > ¡Viva México!

¡Viva México!

by Mekala Raman

"Happy Cinco de Mayo!" As people at school and work wish one another happiness, they usually don't know the reason why Cinco de Mayo, or the 5th of May, is a special day for Mexicans. Cinco de Mayo is a day of festivities honoring the day, May 5th 1862, when Mexico won its victory over France. Although people believe that Cinco de Mayo celebrates independence, Mexico's actual Independence Day is on September 16th, the day in 1810 when Mexico finally gained its independence from Spain. Today many people, even non-Mexicans, recognize Cinco de Mayo as a special holiday and join in the celebration. In the 1800s, French, Spanish, and English troops landed in Mexico to collect debts from Mexican President Benito Juarez. After collecting the debts, Spain and England left. Napoleon, however, ordered the French armies to stay and claim Mexican land. He assumed that capturing the capital, Mexico City, would cause the Mexicans to surrender. Ragged Mexican soldiers faced a flamboyant French army of about 8,000 troops. However, using the terrain and irregular tactics (such as turning hundreds of cattle loose) to their advantage, they managed to defeat the French and save their land. Although some battles had been lost and Mexico was in French hands for a while, Benito Juarez returned to recapture the capital.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated enthusiastically in the state of Puebla where the fight for Mexico took place. Throughout Mexico, people celebrate their victory over France. Cities along the Mexican border or with a large population of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, celebrate their culture, customs, and enjoy special foods.

To get an idea of how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Fremont, I spoke with Estela Reiner and learned how she and her family celebrate this special holiday. They get together as a family and meet other families to share special foods, wear colorful clothing and take part in festivities to celebrate the battle that defeated the French. Reiner recalls that her great grandfather lived in Mexico during this war. At that time, everyone was afraid of being killed. Once, while riding his horse, he was stopped by soldiers and was terrified that he would be killed. Luckily, they just took his horse and didn't harm him! It was definitely a scary time.

To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, special foods are made. Red, green, and white rice is prepared to represent the flag of Mexico and served with dishes such as red and green tamales, tortillas, various appetizers, Jell-O, meat, guacamole, and chips. A special bread called buñuelo-a mixture of salt, flour, and water fried in canola or peanut oil-is eaten warm with either sugar or syrup. The food is served with a fresh drink like tamarindo, which is a tamarind drink.

Some people who host large parties will hire mariachi bands (traveling musicians) to perform at their party and some include breaking a piñata (a decorated pot filled with candy or gifts). Reiner says, "It is really lots of fun because there is music and you go to dance and eat and everyone is wearing really colorful dresses." Along with the food, clothing is very important-to the women especially. Women get dressed in vibrant colors of orange, yellow, red, light blue, or lime green embroidery on white dresses and the girls often braid their hair with colorful ribbons. Decked out in bright colors and full to bursting with delicious foods, people of Mexican heritage enjoy making merry while honoring those who struggled to keep them free.

If you would like to join in the Cinco de Mayo festivities this year, the Fremont Main Library is holding a Cinco de Mayo celebration with crafts, music, dancing, and exhibits on Saturday, May 8th from 12:30 - 3:30. The Newark Library is also celebrating Cinco de Mayo by having Folklorico Nacional Juvenil perform on Saturday, May 8th at 3:00 p.m. Latinos Unidos de Newark will also present an all day Fiesta de Cinco de Mayo celebration on Saturday, May 1 at Newark Community Center. Come join the fun!

Recipe for making buñuelo:
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted twice
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Melted bittersweet chocolate, garnish

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs, butter, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Add the milk and stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to make dough, adding more milk 1/4 teaspoon at a time if the mixture is too dry.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Shape into 20 equal balls. Cover with a kitchen cloth and let stand for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the cinnamon to make the cinnamon-sugar.
In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees F.

Roll each ball out on a lightly-floured board into very thin circles, about 6-inches in diameter. Fry the dough until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.

To serve, drizzle with the chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Serve hot.

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