Please: Please, please. Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? And don’t give me that same-old same-old description of what it is. I know it’s not Mexican Independence Day. It happened so long ago, and not even the Mexicans celebrate it. So why should Americans? I’m not dissing Mexico or Mexicans or Chicanos or anything like that. I hope you get my drift and will give me the answer I’m looking for. — Dita, via email
We here at Alice Industries are in our big blubbery inner tubes, drifting down the information river right along with you, Dita. Like, what’s the connection between the city of Puebla, half-way down the Mexican map, and a bunch of bars in California? Bear with us while we tell you stuff you already know, hoping we’ll end with the stuff you don’t already know.
It’s 1861. Boatloads of soldiers from France, England, and Spain barge into Mexico at the port of Veracruz to collect debts owed to them by Mexico. Debts satisfied, England and Spain go home. But the sneaky French start fighting their way through the countryside, on their way to Mexico City. The plan is to take over the government and make Mexico theirs. At the time, the French have the most formidable army in Europe. Mexico’s no match. So when 4000 Mexican soldiers defeat 8000 French soldiers at the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862, Mexico was pretty stoked. News of the event spread like the proverbial wildfire around the country and up through former Mexican lands in the U.S. Historians say it was a moment of great national pride and unification, Not many countries could say they defeated the army of Napoleon III.
Unfortunately, the French eventually did conquer Mexico City and take over the country, so Puebla wasn’t a turning point. It was just a day of big celebrations in the U.S. states that two decades earlier had belonged to Mexico, heavily populated with Americans that two decades earlier had been Mexicans. One UCLA study of Chicano history claims the battle of Puebla has been celebrated among Mexican-Americans in the western states, especially California, since 1863. Mexican workers here hadn’t much else to celebrate, so you can see how they might want to hang on to that proud moment,
That might be the answer you’re looking for, Dita. But if you want another America–Cinco de Mayo link, try this one: Some historians believe one of France’s motives for conquering Mexico was to eventually smash the United States into little pieces. Napoleon III pretty much despised the U.S. When the Civil War began, it’s said, he saw the perfect opportunity to break up the party. From Mexico, the French could easily send weapons and supplies to the Confederacy. But the battle of Puebla set back Napoleon’s plans long enough for the North to build an army large enough to win the war. Political powers in Washington were pleased.
So, why did Cinco de Mayo die in Mexico and spring to life in the U.S.? Well, the French eventually did conquer Mexico, so Puebla lost some of its shine with the population under the rule of Emperor Maximilian. The state and city of Puebla, of course, still make a big deal of the day, but not so much in Acapulco or Oaxaca, I guess. As a traditional celebration among Mexican-Americans, it was something that played a big part in the first years of organized Chicano pride after World War II. It became even bigger in the next Chicano-identity years in the 1960s and ’70s. But then U.S. beer companies got ahold of it in the 1980s and that pretty much sealed the deal. Huge parties with beer and Mexican food? Who could resist? It’s still a day of cultural pride (food, music, dance) in the Chicano community; it’s a gigantic beerfest with oversized sombreros for the rest of us. I hope this explains why, Dita.
Hey, Matthew Alice: Does anybody know how much digital information is stored all over the world? The digital age was supposed to do away with paper, and I guess to some extent it has, but it’s sure added to the huge amount of crap we store. — Anonymous, via email
Somebody does know how much junk we have at our fingertips in digital form. Apparently we care about stuff like that in order to plan ahead for new, efficient storage methods. The most-quoted source is International Data Corporation’s 2010 study, “The Digital Universe Decade —Are You Ready?” By 2008 we’d stowed away 800 million gigabytes of more or less important stuff. Their prediction? By 2020 we’ll need cubbies for 35 trillion gigabytes of nonsense. IDC defines the digital universe as all the data that exists today, all known data in the world. But our favorite revelation from IDS: 75 percent of all data is redundant — a copy of other data; only 25 percent is unique.