image title
ASU experts: Cinco de Mayo has been commercialized, and many don't recognize it.
May 4, 2017

ASU experts in Mexican-American history discuss the holiday's origins and evolution

So you think Cinco de Mayo is a made-up holiday contrived to sell stereotypically Mexican bar food and alcohol to gringos? Turns out, you’re mostly right, according Arizona State University Professor Alexander Aviña.

Aviña, who teaches history in the university’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, says the holiday started to grow beyond the Mexican-American community in the Southwest in the late 1980s when Latino-focused advertisers saw an opportunity.

“Business people saw that the Mexican-American community in the US was gaining in consumption power, and the thing is once you do that you open it up for everybody and it becomes totally commercialized,” Aviña said. 

To learn more about this holiday that has changed drastically in the last 30 years, ASU Now spoke with a pair of experts on Mexican-American history. Aviña, who teaches Mexican history, and Professor Monica De La Torre, who teaches media in the School of Transborder Studies, helped provide this list of things to know about Cinco de Mayo:

1. It’s not Mexican Independence Day.

Old Cinco de Mayo poster


Mexican Independence Day is in September and celebrates the nation's liberation from Spain in 1810.

Cinco de Mayo recalls a skirmish more than 50 years later, the Battle of Puebla, when Mexico was fighting against a French invasion. A ragtag group of Mexican workers and farmers joined up with an outmatched army unit to take down one of the strongest military powers of the day — at least in one battle.

A French expeditionary force, Aviña said, was “defeated by a combination of underfunded, undertrained professional army and a bunch of irregular guerilla fighters who were peasants — and dressed like peasants — and had an assortment of bad, bad weaponry,” including machetes and slingshots. 

The invaders, meanwhile, would have had muskets and cannons, and “they totally underestimated the tactical awareness of (Mexico’s Gen. Ignacio) Zaragoza and the fighting spirit of these Mexican fighters.   

 2. The Battle of Puebla was just the start.

"The Execution of Emperor Maximilian" oil painting by Édouard Manet. Courtesy of the Yorck Project


That victory was the only success against the French, who proceeded to overtake Mexico and rule from 1862 to 1867, by installing the only European royal “crazy enough,” Aviña said, to take the job: Emperor Maximilian I.

As the U.S. Civil War was winding down, the U.S. government was able to turn its attention to the French and wanted them out of North America. Also, France’s standing in Europe was being jeopardized by a unifying Germany.

Napoleon Bonaparte decided to withdraw troops from Mexico. Maximilian, an Austrian loyal to France, however, chose to stay.

Maximilian “arrives in Mexico, he rules for a couple of years, he alienates everybody because he’s too liberal for the conservatives, and the Mexican liberals are in no way going to accept an emperor installed by a foreign force,” Aviña said.

Maximilian was executed in 1867, and the only traces remaining of the French occupation were the baguette used in torta sandwiches or the crepes used to prepare crepas de huitlacoche.

3. The battle is commemorated in Texas.

Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza
A portrait of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza. Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress


Zaragoza was born in modern-day Texas, and his birthplace is commemorated in what today is Goliad State Park, where the U.S. government rebuilt his birth home.

The people of Puebla, Mexico, near Mexico City, the site of the famous battle, established a 10-foot bronze statue of Zaragoza in 1980. 

Zaragoza’s second-in-command during the battle was no other than Profirio Díaz, who helped depose Maximilian and became the ruler of Mexico for the next 35 years.

He was so heavy-handed that he “causes the explosion of the Mexican revolution in 1910,” Aviña said, effectively setting up the government system that exists today.

4. It's been celebrated ever since — but not like this.


As early as 1865, Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S. West show committees being formed to raise funds and awareness against the French occupation. The communities from California to Texas these publications served had become American overnight with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, and this was their way of exerting influence on a nation with which they continued to identify.

“Cinco de Mayo during the 1860s as it's celebrated or commemorated in places like California really helped developed what historians refer to as a greater Mexican identity, so a Mexican identity that goes beyond borders,” Aviña said.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the Chicano Movement revived the holiday, Aviña said: “It’s part of recuperating parts of a Mexican past that will give some sort of national pride and dignity to people who have been oppressed racially and treated like second-class citizens in the U.S.”

5. It's been increasingly commercialized.

Cinco de Mayo
People gathered downtown recently to listen to Entre Mujeres, a trans-local music composition project between Chicanas/Latinas in the U.S. and Jarochas/Mexican female musicians in Mexico. Entre Mujeres project includesTylana Enomoto of Quetzal, among others. Photo by Tim Trumble/ASU.


As the holiday became commercialized in the ’80s and ’90s, the Mexican-American community largely ceased to identify with it, Aviña said.

Monetizing the one and only Mexican-American holiday means tacos, tequila and mariachi music — which is problematic, De La Torre said.  

She sees the holiday as it’s celebrated today as a missed opportunity to actually connect.

“It’s an unjust stereotype to say that Mexican food is only beer, tequila, tacos and salsa. Instead of only listening to mariachi on Cinco de Mayo, you should listen to other bands. Chicano Batman is a great band; Quetzal is a great band.”

De La Torre suggests that it's OK to celebrate the holiday, but make sure you're learning more about it as you do. 

Aviña, meanwhile, said, “I’m going to probably put posts on Facebook about offensive use of Mexican dress and costume.”

image title
ASU poised to contribute to mindfulness movement with research, collaboration.
May 4, 2017

ASU's Chief Well-Being Officer Teri Pipe establishes Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience

Standing at the front of a large lecture hall as hundreds of college students streamed in with their books, bags and devices, headphones still in their ears, something dawned on William Heywood. They were distracted from the moment they came in the room.

Heywood, assistant director of The Design School at ASU, began starting each class with five minutes of what he called “centering.” Five quiet minutes where students were asked to unplug, breathe deeply and be present in the moment.

After doing this for a while, Heywood said he noticed class engagement and performance improved. He called it centering, but many may know it as mindfulness.

Over the past decade, it has become a buzzword with the rise in popularity of such practices as yoga, tai chi and meditation. The New York Times regularly reports on it, it’s being taught to kids as young as preschool and the U.S. Army has adapted it into its training.

But what is mindfulness, and why is it becoming the zeitgeist of the 2010s?

“Mindfulness is a skill set, and it means the ability to pay attention, with intention, to the present moment,” said Teri PipePipe is also dean of ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation and a research professor., ASU's chief well-being officer. “We are living in a society that is characterized by uncertainty, and there are lots of pulls and tugs to our attention and … multiple stimuli coming at us from multiple channels.

“Learning this skill set, learning to pay intentional attention to whatever is in front of us in the present moment will help all of us cope much better as a society.”

On Wednesday evening, Pipe welcomed deans, faculty, students and community members — about 175 in all — to the grand opening of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience.

The event took place at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and featured demonstrations of various mindfulness practices, including yoga, tai chi/qigong, Tibetan singing bowls and interactive art.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now 

Surrounded by the natural desert landscape, ASU Research Professor Linda Larkey stood calmly with her eyes closed as she slowly raised and then lowered her arms. A small breeze fluttered the leaves on the tree behind her and glasses clinked in the background, but she was unfazed as she began turning rhythmically from side to side.

Larkey is a practitioner of qigong, similar to yoga in its focus on posture and coordinated, fluid movements. She studies how such mind-body methods can alleviate symptoms in cancer survivors. Along with the calming effects of mindfulness, Larkey said, “there’s a whole cascade of changes in the body’s ability to make its own medicine.”

The center will bring together researchers like Larkey, as well as practitioners and educators across disciplines at ASU to collaborate, study and spread ideas about mindfulness, compassion and resilience throughout the university and surrounding community.

Six years ago when Pipe came to ASU from the Mayo Clinic, she discovered a number of university faculty already immersed in the mindfulness field. She felt a sense of personal responsibility to connect them, and did so with a potluck at her house. The guest list grew from 20 to more than 100, and Pipe decided it was time to formalize things. She put together a proposal for the center last summer, and now it’s a reality.

“The president, the provost, other deans, all university leadership have been phenomenally supportive,” Pipe said. “ASU has this reservoir of expertise and motivation and desire to use mindfulness as scientists and educators. … So [this center is] connecting people around these concepts, and then just amplifying the work.”

Members of the community have also been supportive of the initiative.

Last year, Mike and Cindy Watts made a $1 million commitment to help launch the center. Their generous donation contributed to Campaign ASU 2020, a campus-wide effort to raise at least $1.5 billion.

Pipe has a grand vision for the center, one that will ingrain the ideas of mindfulness, compassion and resilience into the culture of the university, in the same way that sustainability and innovation are.

“So much so,” she said, “that it’s just part of the fabric of ASU.”


Top photo: ASU Research Professor Linda Larkey, a practitioner of qigong, leads a group through the moves at the grand opening of ASU's Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience at the Desert Botanical Garden Wednesday evening. The new center was inspired by Teri Pipe, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the university's chief well-being officer, and began as group meetings with 20 people at her home. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now