In honor of today, a little history and a video about labels.
Today is not Mexican Independence Day and is not as widely celebrated in Mexico as it is in the US. When it is celebrated in Mexico, it is done so as a military memorial kind of day. It's only in the US that it's celebrated as a generic "yay Mexican culture" day. This date is actually the anniversary of Mexico's triumph over France during one battle (in a war that they ultimately lost). This is important to the US because, had Mexico not defeated France in this battle, the French would have been in a position to aid the Confederacy during the US Civil War, turning the tide of history.
It *started out* as a holiday celebrated by Mexican gold miners and farmers in California, who were excited about the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 and was celebrated only in California until about the 1940s when the Chicano movement started to fight for Mexicano civil rights in the US. Then it spread out across the country, but still mostly among people of Mexican descent or in areas with high Mexican populations.
It wasn't until the 1980s when fucking beer companies decided to use the holiday to market their products that the rest of the US got in on the act. So, pretty much everything about this holiday as it's celebrated today is literal cultural appropriation capitalism. No one but the Chicano activists cared about "Mexican culture" until beer companies told us we could get drunk to "celebrate" in order to sell us more beer.
Y'know what? I'd actually kinda welcome the US "appropriating" Cinco de Mayo if the reason was that we were celebrating Mexico's symbolic victory *because* that victory meant that the Union won the Civil War, instead of "hey, we have a lot of Mexicans here, so let's throw them a bone by selling them beer with Spanish names and letting them have parades once a year to pretend that we like having them in our country".
Like, if we acknowledged that this one battle led to the defeat of the Confederacy, so we metaphorically reached across the border to shake Mexico's hand to say "thanks for being badasses, we benefited from the sacrifices that your military made in its own struggle for independence and we honor your fallen", I don't think I'd have any problem with the US celebrating another country's holiday.
"Today, class, we celebrate a small victory of our neighbors against their invaders. Even though those invaders ultimately won, this single victory kept those invaders distracted from us long enough for our own government to clean house and defeat the rebel traitors in our midst.
And, to thank them for their sacrifice, we offered our military support to oust their invaders once we handled our own rebel factions. So we celebrate in solidarity with a nation whose success is inextricably linked to our own."
The actual history behind the holiday is kinda fascinating. The Mexican-American war and the Reform War basically bankrupted Mexico, so they tried to suspend paying off their foreign debts for a couple of years. France, led by Napoleon III, said "no way, Jose" and invaded Mexico. In a massive battle where France totally outnumbered Mexico, the smaller Mexican army managed to defeat the French at a fort they tried to occupy.
This wasn't a strategically important battle, but this military version of the David & Goliath story boosted Mexican morale, which led to the Mexicans in the mining towns in California during the Gold Rush celebrating the victory that led to the US version of the holiday. Shortly afterwards, France sent 30,000 troops and totally crushed Mexico, installing their own emperor, although France continued to be besieged by Mexican guerrilla attacks. The following year, the US Civil War was over.
If Mexico hadn't had that one win, France would have occupied Mexico much sooner and been in a position to aid the Confederacy. But instead, they were busy with their own war with Mexico and by the time they had resources to devote to our own conflict, the US Civil War was already coming to its conclusion.
France held control of Mexico for only about 3 years because, with our own war over, we sent aid to Mexico to help get the French out. Napoleon III didn't much care for the thought of tangling directly with a now united USA, especially when he was also dealing with the Prussians, so he withdrew.
In addition, since the Battle of Pueblo, no European military force has invaded any country in the Americas.
Nowadays, what to call people of Mexican ancestry living in the US has become its own political battle. Growing up, I did not identify as Hispanic because I don't natively speak Spanish, although the term is applied to people with ethnic ties to Spanish-speaking countries. When I referred to my heritage, I preferred Latina. It was much later that I learned of the term Mestizo, which is more accurate for me - a person of mixed European and indigenous Amerindian descent (which is accurate for most people from Latin America, being descended from Spaniards & Native Americans during the Spanish occupation of Latin American lands).
The term Mestizo has a checkered past, being associated with the casta system (a system of racial hierarchy imposed on the Americas by Spanish elites). But in Mexico in particular, during the struggle for Mexican independence, Mestizos made up a political majority so the term became central to the new independent Mexican identity and became more about the dual nature of heritage and ethnicity than the casta system.
As a youth, I rejected the term Chicana because I heard it as a borderline slur used by white people. I wasn't one of *those* Mexicans, therefore I wasn't chicana. But later, I learned the history of the term and came to adopt it over Latina. Latina / Latino is an colonialist term imposed upon those whose whose ancestry or ethnic heritage comes from one of the many, diverse countries in Latin America.
I also rejected the term chola for the same reasons. Cholo has been in use since the 1600s and is another casta term. It also means someone of mixed European and Amerindian descent, but the proportions are different. It means the offspring of a mestizo and a full-blooded Amerindian. Because that makes someone lower on the casta ladder, the term became synonymous with lower class.
After the rise of gangs in California in the 1970s and spreading into the 1990s, cholo came to refer to specifically Mexican-Americans who were in gangs or who adopted stereotypical attire, because of the word's association with lower class, which is the only way that I knew the term at the time. So, because I wasn't one of *those* Mexicans, I rejected the term chola as well, although I have not since reconsidered adopting the label, as it still doesn't fit me as well as mestizo or chicana.
People of Latin American regions do not typically refer to themselves as Latin American, instead usually preferring to identify more locally as the region from which they come, like Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, or even more specifically, the pueblo (village or tribal) identification such as Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huasteco, or any of hundreds of other indigenous groups. Generally only the US refers to people of those regions as Latino.
"Latino" is basically like calling someone "European" and ignoring their country of origin, only if we had colonized Europe (instead of the other way around) and then named them all generic "European" whether they liked it or not just to make it easier for our census bureau and corporate marketing departments.
In the 1960s, the Chicano Movement was started to fight for civil rights for people of Mexican descent in the US. Chicano was originally a pejorative and is still used that way by some, but some Mexican-Americans chose to reclaim the label, specifically for activists.
"According to the Handbook of Texas:
Inspired by the courage of the farmworkers, by the California strikes led by César Chávez, and by the Anglo-American youth revolt of the period, many Mexican-American university students came to participate in a crusade for social betterment that was known as the Chicano movement. They used Chicano to denote their rediscovered heritage, their youthful assertiveness, and their militant agenda. Though these students and their supporters used Chicano to refer to the entire Mexican-American population, they understood it to have a more direct application to the politically active parts of the Tejano community."
"For Chicanos, the term usually implies being 'neither from here, nor from there' in reference to the US and Mexico. As a mixture of cultures from both countries, being Chicano represents the struggle of being institutionally acculturated into the Anglo-dominated society of the United States, while maintaining the cultural sense developed as a Latin-American cultured, US-born Mexican child."
"Juan Bruce-Novoa wrote in 1990: 'A Chicano lives in the space between the hyphen in Mexican-American'".
"And as Chicanos come to terms with what it means to be a part of two worlds, post-colonialism, they must now deal with the fact that they have one foot in the Anglo-dominated world, that they are indigenous to and contribute, in their own, unique cultural experience, to the American melting pot; and all the while having another foot in New World they descended from, Latin-American, Spanish-dominated through conquest and Anglo-dominated through American Manifest Destiny, empiricism, and greed."
"Journalist Rodolfo Acuña writes: When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term Latino. They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term Latino slights the various national identities included under the umbrella."It should also be pointed out that none of this refers to *race*. The US counts Hispanic / Latino as "white" even though we are not white or are of mixed ancestry. Mexicans are typically descended from Spaniards (counted as "white") and Native Americans almost equally, with something like 10% of African ancestry mixed in. In fact, genetic research on Latin Americans, and Mexicans specifically, show a very strong paternal European line with a strong maternal Amerindian line - meaning that our mixed ancestry is overwhelmingly due to colonization of conquering Spanish men impregnating local women so often that the entire genetic makeup of the country was changed to a predominantly mixed ethnicity of nearly equal amounts of European genetics through male genes and indigenous genetics through female genes. This, in itself, is an interesting rabbit hole to explore.
Incidentally, this is why I have not accepted this new shorthand for polyamory as "polyam". The argument is that "poly" is short for "Polynesian" and we are somehow oppressing "Polynesian" people by using this term for polyamory, in spite of the fact that the term "poly" is actually Greek and is a prefix for a great many things. Much like the controversy between Latino & Chicano, "Polynesian" is a controversial term among people for whom that term applies. Some accept it readily just as some of Mexican descent accept "Latino".
But others recognize it as a symbol of their colonization and do not self-identify as "Polynesian", instead preferring to identify more locally as the region from which they come, much like many don't like to refer to themselves as Latino and instead refer to themselves from more local regions like Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, or even more specifically, the pueblo (village or tribal) identification such as Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huasteco, or any of hundreds of other indigenous groups.
Like the myriad cultures in the region known to the US as the Polynesian Isles, each region in Latin America has its own distinct culture, identifiably and often contentiously separate from its neighbors. I empathize with and strongly identify with those under the "Polynesian" label who reject the term as a symbol of colonization because of my own ethnic relationship to colonizationally imposed ethnicity labels.
With many decades having passed, the debate about accepting our colonizers' labels for ourselves vs. maintaining our ethnic identity vs. breaking off and creating a new identity that accommodates our split heritage continues, even among ourselves. I choose the terms that reflect my split heritage because I feel split, torn, apart from, and I choose terms that celebrate and encourage activism and deliberate intent and personal choice.
I like the terms "chicana" and "mestizo" (the lower case is appropriate in Mexican Spanish) over "Hispanic" or "Latina" because I like the association with civil rights, activism, and the acknowledgement of a unique culture that results from the blending of the old ethnic ancestry and the new country into which one is born. Although I still use Latinx because that is more readily understandable, I am mestizo or chicana - a person of mixed ethnicity with ties to Mexico but no place in Mexican culture; an activist who is struggling to find her own place in this world with pressures to assimilate battling with pressures to recognize and remember; someone who is neither from here, nor from there; a person with a rich cultural tapestry and yet no home.