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Margarita Time: What is Cinco de Mayo?

This Friday, May 5, 2023, marks the 161st anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. Why do we celebrate with a Margarita or Corona or Modelo Negro? More than party time, Cinco de Mayo is an important event in U.S. history, and not so much for Mexico. Read on to find out more.

First of all, it’s time to know that May 5, Cinco de Mayo, is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, 1810, celebrating the separation of Mexico from Spanish rule.

Nevertheless, Cinco de Mayo marks a significant date in history when the French army was defeated in Puebla on May 5, 1862, marking an important symbolic moment to curtail Napoleon Bonaparte’s designs on establishing a monarchy in North America.  When you visit Puebla you can still see the bullet holes in front of the house occupied by General Ignacio Zaragoza.


Most of us know Cinco de Mayo as a U.S. celebration of Latino culture. There are 62.1 million Latinos living in the U.S. according to the 2020 census representing 19 percent of the population, making it the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group according to the Pew Research Center.

Perhaps we know Cinco de Mayo as the name of a favorite local Tex-Mex restaurant, or the promotion of a favorite beverage accompanied by guacamole. (Avocados are imported from Michoacan, Mexico.)  At the end of this week, many will of us will welcome the occasion to have a party and raise a toast to our southern neighbor with a beer or Margarita.  What are you doing for Happy Hour on May 5?

But there’s much more to it than that, according to historian David Hayes-Bautista, as reported  by CNN and Reza Gostar in GlendoraPatch.  It notable that Cinco de Mayo was a rallying cry in the U.S. by Latinos against the elitist French monarchy, which was sympathetic to the Confederacy during the Civil War.   At that time, Latinos sided with the Union, fearing that a Confederacy win would expand slavery to include them. If Blacks could be enslaved, so could brown and indigenous people, too. 

Puebla is Angelopolis, City of Angels 

Dr. Hayes-Bautista, who is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, has uncovered the first groundbreaking research that links the celebration of liberation for Mexicans with the U.S. Civil War and the hope that the Union would prevail.  The win at the Battle of Puebla by the Mexican freedom fighters against the elitists energized many Americans early in the war when the Confederacy was powerful. This was especially significant for Latinos, since much of the American Southwest was populated by those with Spanish and Mexican heritage. 

So, as you raise your glass with a hearty Salud, recall that Latinos volunteered to serve in the Union Army in order to preserve freedom, independence, and fight for racial justice.

Watch this YouTube video to know more about Cinco de Mayo as told by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista.



Quick footnote: I’m recovering from surgery at University of New Mexico Medical Center and in Albuquerque with my son and daughter-in-law. All went well. No pain. No opioids. Amazing surgical team. No worries. I’m hoping to go home to Taos this weekend. The kids are going out for Cinco de Mayo. I’ll be here, resting! My surgeon is Latina as is her medical resident. We’ve come a long way, but not far enough!

Happy Holidays, Discounts and Taking a Break

Felices fiestas de la temporada: Hanukkah feliz, feliz Navidad y feliz Año Nuevo.  Happy celebrations of the season!  I am in Santa Cruz, California now and will have lunch today with Debbie Mayfield and Bella Jacque, two Day of the Dead Photography Expedition participants.  Bella is coming back to Oaxaca in February with her sister to take the Felted Fashion Workshop with Jessica de Haas and Eric Chavez Santiago.

In celebration of the season and five years of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blogging, I am offering a

15% discount on all workshops scheduled through August 2013 — when you register by December 25, 2012. (Except Felted Fashion Workshop.) Gift Certificates available.  Tell me you want the discount when you register.

Tonight, there will be a Oaxaca Trunk Show at my sister’s home.  I had a very successful show in Atlanta last week (thanks to Kim Drader Noeltner and Robin Blocker who hosted) and still have some great “leftovers.”  When I get back to North Carolina next weekend, I’ll be offering more as part of Shop Mexico: Artisan Sisters.  So stay tuned.

Then, I’ll be taking a blogging break until 2013!  Maybe, I’ll post something if it’s important enough to share.

Enjoy the season — and let’s honor its universal reminder to hope and pray for a peaceful world,  well-being and good health care for all.  Let us practice compassion, generosity, understanding and forgiveness.  Our time here on this earth is finite.  Let’s make the most of it!

Abrazos fuerte,  Norma

Young Oaxaca Weavers Honored and Encouraged

Faye Sims, a textile friend from Salt Spring Island, Vancouver, BC shared a blog story today about the new exhibition at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and I wanted to pass the gist of it on to you!  The story refers to Eric Chavez Santiago, our close family friend and we are incredibly proud of his accomplishments to preserve the textile traditions of Oaxaca. When I was in Oaxaca recently Eric was spending most of his time traveling to the remote mountainous regions to film documentary footage about young weavers, many of them as young as eight years old. He traveled with noted textile curator Remigio Mestas. Then when Eric returned to Oaxaca he spent most evenings and weekends this autumn in the office editing to produce a final video in time for the November 10 opening. The show runs through March 2013.

Eric is also teaching a private 2-day natural dye workshop in Teotitlan, January 21-22, 2013. If you are interested please contact me. We will be working with cochineal, indigo, wild marigold, moss, and more!

New from Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

FELTED FASHION WORKSHOP with Jessica de Haas & Eric Chavez Santiago
February 2-9, 2013
3 spaces left! Dye merino wool with natural materials, then design and sew your own felted garment using indigenous Mexican textile patterns.
Jessica is a fashion designer from Granville Island, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I hope you’ll go to the textile museum’s websiteto read more about this extraordinary exhibit.

Day of the Dead Photo Out-Takes: Part 2 + Recipe Quest

Traveling with a group of people you don’t know ahead of time could be risky for those who are independent and like to go off on their own to discover the world.  We found our companions who participated in the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition 2012 to be muy amable!  We shared interests, took time for ourselves and came together to learn and discuss.  We all had some good laughs with each other and at ourselves, too.

Here, Deby Thompson (left) and Helene Haviland (right) brought their tripods to the Zocalo to practice before we went off for an all-evening night shoot at the Xoxocotlan cemetery the following night.


The style of our instructor Bill Bamberger (left) is relaxed and informal.  He offered coaching sessions on the hoof, and here Mark Pollard and Bill strolled through the archeological site of Monte Alban together as Bill advised Mark, a very accomplished professional photographer, about ways he could build and organize his portfolio.  To the right is Erin Loughran at Yagul archeological site  determining which shot she wants to take.


Several of us stayed an additional day to explore Yagul and Mitla, two major archeological sites in the Tlacolula valley.  To the left, Bella, Erin and Helene posed for a photo in the shade of a 900 CE structure with Mixtec-Zapotec carvings at Mitla.  To the right, Helene showed us her clock, which she pulled out on many occasion to show street vendors that she didn’t have time to shop, she was running late.  They were speechless and she was able to walk away, no muss, no fuss, no bother.

Yagul is a stunning archeological site about 20 minutes south of Teotitlan del Valle off the Pan American Highway.  There has been intensive restoration there during the past six years and the views are amazing.  Here Kathy Heath is concentrating on getting from one magnificent spot to another.

Above, Bella Jacque sitting on the edge of a pyramid base at Yagul.


Helene and Bella at Yagul, where caves, windswept cactus, flowering acacia trees, and ancient rocks draw us to wonder about life in Mexico over 1,000 years ago.

And here we are hanging around under cover from the rain in Xoxocotlan, with Bill demonstrating a camera technique to Liz Thomas.


I took this portrait of Bill Bamberger early in the week of our workshop together.  I just loved how the light falls on his face.  To the right is Bella Jacque modeling a traditional indigenous rebozo from Tenancingo at the Sunday Tlacolula market, where we went after the visits to Yagul and Mitla.

It was a nicer day by the time we got to Teotitlan del Valle.  Bella is trying to figure out directions with the self-guided tour map I give to each participant.

After the workshop finished and I returned to North Carolina, Deby Thompson (right) and I got together with weaver Lynn Pownell in Durham at Dos Perros Mexican Restaurant.  They made us a delicious tamarind mezcal margarita, a close rival to the excellent Oaxaca versions at Cafe San Pablo and Los Danzantes. I am on a quest for the perfect tamarind mezcal margarita.  Does anyone out there have a recipe to share?  Anyone know Rick Bayless’ Tamarind Mezcal Margarita recipe?

Out-Takes Part I: Day of the Dead Photography Workshop

First the disclosure: Everyone whose likeness appears here has agreed to have these sometimes embarrassing, revealing and funny photos published on OCN.  We think a good laugh at ourselves is healthy.  These are personal photos we took of each other during the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition in October-November 2012 that didn’t make it (not even close) into the Best of Week category.

First up is Helene Haviland who was caught tasting her first chapulines.


Followed by (above right) “Who is behind that screen door?”  It must be Connie Jo!  We are going to tattle on Erin Loughran. She arrived without her tripod. Had it all ready and forgot to pack it.  While we were on the streets photographing, Erin was searching for a tripod in Oaxaca to fit her camera (below, left).   We caught Debbie Mayfield (above right) hunkered down on the floor with the wool at the studio of the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers.  She was wrapped up in the blue wool for at least an hour. Liz Thomas had a thing for wool, too. Hiding under the skeins seemed to be her preference. Or perhaps the desire for a new hair-do. And our instructor, photographer Bill Bamberger had a little wool on his face after three days of being free of the razor. Okay, enough of that theme. On to the mezcal. Here we have Bella Jacque and Deby Thompson at a mezcal tasting, with Helene there, too, but behind the camera.  They had a great time.

Liz (left), it turns out, bought a $6 bottle of mezcal to share at the Xoxo cemetery.  It was cold and rainy.  Great excuse, huh?  You might guess what happened next. On our second night in Oaxaca, Debbie and Doug Mayfield high-tailed it to the Zocalo to learn how to use their cameras at night and practice with the tripod. This was in preparation for our Xoxocotlan cemetery photography shoot.

No sooner had we arrived at the cemetery than it started to rain. Umbrellas sold out in a matter of rain drops.   My only option was an XL  garbage bag that cost 5 pesos.  Snapped it right up and joined the Mayfields at the corner comedor.  Stylish, wouldn’t you say? Our neighbor at the next table invited us all to join in with a sip of mezcal.  They loved the outfit.  Thanks to Helene for getting this shot!

Helene hunkered under a shawl (she later found one of the last umbrellas) and bought an offering of marigolds to give as a gift to a family cleaning and decorating a grave.

Later in the week, a few of us went to Yagul for archeological exploration, a favorite pastime of Connie (below) who was trained in the field.

More to come with Second Set Out-Takes. Stay tuned.