Cinco de Mayo means many things to many people. Certainly there are liquor executives that have much riding on the success of their T.V. campaigns. Teachers around the country are preparing lesson plans to clarify that this is not Mexican Independence Day, but rather a celebration of the historical events in the battle of Puebla, where against all odds, a new Mexican government protected by a heavily peasant army defeated the French invaders in 1862.
For Rick Rodriguez, a successful second-generation Mexican American businessman who also had to battle against high odds, it means one thing—an opportunity to demonstrate pride for his roots as a member of the Mexican immigrant community in the U.S.A. How one chooses to celebrate is not constricted to elaborate ceremonies or having to wear attire of a certain color to avoid being punished with a pinch. For anyone of Mexican decent, just like on any other Mexican American celebratory occasion, a “Carne Asada” (grilled marinated flank steak grilled over coals) meal with beans, chips and salsa would do just fine.
Throughout the years, Rick would take time to gather friends and family on Cinco de Mayo and enjoy the fruits of their labor with typical Mexican food, good music and the warmth that comes when love is the main ingredient of the feast. Rick said “For us, it is like the scene in the movie “Fools Rush In” when Selma Hayek brings Mathew Perry to meet the familia, loud laughter as children run wild. His sons Richard and Daniel were made in charge of grilling the Carne Asada at an early age. Mom would make her secret recipe salsa and bring it out with the chips. Daniel would say, “Make sure that the chips are not crumbled, you can’t dip crumbled chips.”
As time passed, Richard and Daniel would grow up listening to Rock and eating pizza while studying for school exams. Out of a sense for love of country, duty and pride instilled by their dad and loved ones. Richard and Daniel joined the Army and found themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively. Half a world away missing the family gatherings and making do with the dehydrated pork patties found in MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat), portable packaged meals as they dodged enemy fire. When Cinco de Mayo rolled around, their hearts and minds soon raced back to those home gatherings where the smells and taste of food would permeate the house they grew up in.
Rick also missed his boys who were off on the other side of the world. Knowing that the military made special meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving but not for Cinco de Mayo, he decided to engage in a military style operation to send his boys a little taste from home. He did his research and found that if he bought the right products and packaged them correctly and sent them with ample time, his sons would be able to share with their units a little bit of Mexican culture in the rugged fields of battle. So on this Cinco de Mayo, the 1st Battalion 10th Mountain Division will be enjoying enchiladas with beans chips and salsa. It was a complete hit! Mom’s home-made sauce was fresh and yes, thanks to some very delicate packaging the chips were ready for dipping.
The boys are now back home as they served their duty assignments with honor and distinction. They have entered the private sector and remain heavily involved in support of veterans returning home seeking to also re-enter civilian life. But they have not forgotten a new tradition that father helped start in their old units. This year they are continuing to prepare care packages and sending them to their old buddies who are still serving. Richard knows how elaborate the process is to ensure that the chips be wrapped to make it safely to their destination.
In the end, Cinco de Mayo is just like any other immigrant tradition that settlers have brought to this country. It should be acknowledged and respected as it celebrates the diversity that makes us strong. So feel free to celebrate in the manner that you see best fit for you. And remember, somewhere in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, the 1st Battalion 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army celebrates with you…minus the adult beverage the liquor executives are glad you purchased.