Nachos and Cinco de Mayo: Mexican Americana.

Battle of Puebla, May 5th, 1862

Many Americans with a fondness for Mexican culture might be surprised the first time they go south of the border: Nachos, the erstwhile staple of Mexican food, are virtually unavailable. (Not to mention that burritos and tacos tend to be remarkably scarce as well.) Nachos are just one of the many “foreign” things that are more popular in America than they are in their country of origin (for example, try finding a Taco Bell south of the border. I dare you.)

Just to clear the air a bit,  nachos, at least as far as the best documented history goes, were in fact invented in Mexico. (Unlike “Chinese” food which wasn’t invented in China.) The story goes that some Americans were visiting relatives across the border, and stopped at a restaurant to eat. The owner didn’t have anything to serve with the meal, and decided to quarter some corn tortillas he had and toasted them. The Americans loved it, and brought the idea north of the border.

But appropriating foreign foods and making them one’s own is typical of a multicultural country; the worst consequence is cosmopolitan cuisine. Americans of British decent can only be overjoyed at having a diverse food selection. (I’m told that making fun of British food is old hat. Can I make fun of Mexicans’ fascination with chili and how it keeps you on the toilet forever?) The point I’m trying to get at is Cinco de Mayo. Apparently it’s a big deal in the US, often dubbed as a “Latin Holiday.

OK, so Utah might not be the best place to go in search of ethnic diversity and understanding. But along with assuming that 5 de Mayo commemorates  Mexican Independence (it doesn’t), is the assumption that it’s a Latino thing. Sure, there are a lot of Mexicans and their descendants in the US. Nothing wrong with that, but there is a really large portion of Latin America that is not Mexico.

For starters, 5 de Mayo -the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla where the Mexicans won a battle against the French (redacted French military joke) but ended up losing the war- is not a big deal in Mexico. It’s even less of a deal in Latin American countries that aren’t Mexico. Like for example, South America, which is an entire Latino continent that is not Mexico. And let’s not get into the debate about the difference between Hispanics, Iberians and Latinos, because Brazilians could take offense at people assuming they speak Spanish.

Of course, it’s not just Mexicans that have had one of their holidays Americanized. St. Patrick’s day is also much more popular in the US than it is in Ireland. It just seems that Americans want another holiday to party and get drunk. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, as the son of both a Grady and a Fernandez, I get identified with both.

Though, it is kind of amusing to see Americans going to Latin America on May 5th and finding the celebrations…underwhelming.


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