Those of us old enough to remember might recall those halcyon days when celebrating Cinco de Mayo meant many things: closing off a street in what was then known as a “barrio”, listening to sometimes inspired and sometimes less-than-inspired music of long-sideburned Santana wannabees from the local garage bands and eating food infused with the love of the local. And we sort of listened to the bandana’d radical Chicana organizer urging us to become part of the global liberation struggle commemorated on May 5th, when badly-equipped, but inspired Mexican guerrillas defeated the forces of Napoleon III’s French Empire in the 19th century.
Others may recall how, in the 80′s and 90′s, the long lost Decades of the “Hispanic”, many turned local street fairs across the Southwest into the larger, corporate-sponsored, alcohol-drenched festivals whose ghost we can still see today. The proud proclamations of culture and political struggle previously embodied by “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” gave way to the “Hispanic pride” contained in slogans like Budweiser’s “Viva la ReBudlucion!” or Absolut Vodka’s more recent racist -and ultimately failed-attempt to cash in on culture with its ad equating drinking vodka with a fictitious Mexican desire to re-conquer (the dreaded specter of “reconquista” promoted by anti-Latino groups and some media outlets) the Southwest.
Looking back on those days now, it’s clear how Latino children and adults going to Cinco de Mayo celebrations became a “mission critical market” in the clash of corporate empires that define a major part of our lives today. But, as a visit to most of the recent Cinco de Mayo and other Latino-themed celebrations makes clear, Latino events now move to the beat of a new power, that of the U.S. Pentagon.
No longer the small, intimate and largely unknown celebration it was in the 70′s, Cinco de Mayo is now celebrated from San Diego, California to Sunset Park, Brooklyn and beyond. And among the major powers present at such events are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Ubiquitous at the hundreds of Cinco de Mayo street fairs in towns and cities throughout the country are military recruiters armed with trinkets, video games, loud music and hyper-hip Hummers that draw even more children and families than the colorful (and urine-smelling) playpens McDonald’s still deploys in its Latino outreach efforts.
As African American youth and females of all races continue to reject military recruiters in record numbers, the Pentagon finds itself with no choice but to invest hundreds of millions to capture the hearts and minds of young Latinos. Our children have become “mission critical” to the future of the empire itself. And, so, the U.S. military -and its high powered Hispanic advertising and publicity firms- has brought us a new Latino celebration, the Cinco de Pentagon.
But rather than fight these nefarious designs on our kids (ie; Until recently Chuck E. Cheese included military-themed puppet shows and television shows broadcast in its restaurants) with nostalgia, we should begin by cleaning house within our communities. First on my list would be a call on local and national organizations like LULAC and the National Council of La Raza to stop promoting the military in exchange for Pentagon sponsorship dollars for their events. The recent Pentagon propaganda scandal should not shock anyone who consumes Latino media; Many Latino media outlets are chock full of paid advertising propaganda and they should to stop taking advertising from the various branches of the Armed Forces that’ve turned them into mouthpieces for military recruitment. And, of course, we should approach local organizers of Cinco de Mayo and other events about boycotting the efforts of those who lie to our kids in order to get them to go fight losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to remind them of the powerful anti-militarism traditions rooted deeply in the Chicano, Puerto Rican and other communities.
I live in New York, which is also called “Puebla York” because of the huge number of Mexicans from Puebla that live there. It’s painful to see how Cinco de Mayo has gone from celebrating the liberation politics and heroism of Puebla to celebrating the recruitment of the descendants of Zaragoza and other Poblanos by the very center of U.S. efforts to destroy global liberation, the Pentagon.
But, all is not lost. Latinos and others across the country have ramped up their efforts to stop the recruitment of Latino youth. Efforts like those in Puerto Rico, counter recruiters have fanned out to all 200 high schools to deliver their anti-militarism message to thousands of students. So, whatever your race, background or creed, if you’re opposed to the war in Iraq and to militarism generally, you might consider stopping recruitment among those without whom the future projections of the military will not be realized: Latino youth. And a good place to start might be to stop celebrating the Cinco de Pentagon and replacing it with something resembling the CInco de Mayo celebrations of old.