Sitting in Indiana, we may not always recognize the value of celebrations in other regions of America or foreign countries. We can look at Cinco de Mayo as a prime example.

The holiday commemorates the 1862 victory of Mexican troops over an invading French cadre of 6,000 soldiers. Mexico had just canceled all foreign debt payments to France, England and Spain. The countries sent fleets to grab money and land. The English and Spanish accepted warrants in payment. France did not and invaded, heading through Puebla in hopes of reaching Mexico City to the northwest.

The celebrated victory over the French took place at the first Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. A second battle at the location, one year later, lasted two months. The first celebration of the original battle was in California in 1863.

Puebla eventually fell to the French but the first victory is still a symbol of heroism and resistance for Latinos. David E. Hayes-Bautista, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, has said the holiday helps define a collective respect among California Latinos: “It binds them together in an identity. It is as important to Latinos as the Alamo is to Anglo-Texans.”

In the Midwest, the holiday often gets little more attention than a special tequila night at a tavern or free burritos at a restaurant. And with the current swine flu (H1N1), we wonder how much partying will go on in Mexico as the virus is now reported with 590 confirmed cases and 25 deaths.

Sometimes, we also fail to recognize the make-up of our community.

In the 2000 Census, Hispanics accounted for 1,879 residents in Madison County of a total population of 133,358. Of those, 1,384 are Mexican, living in about 375 homes.

New estimates from 2007 show the county’s Hispanic population has increased to about 2,700.

So there is reason to “seriously” celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Madison County.

The holiday — associated with music and vibrant colors — does indeed provide an identity for a growing ethnic group in our county. As Americans, however, we often treat these days with little understanding or appreciation.

This might be the day, May 5, to bring up a little history at the family dinner table or the office water cooler. Celebrate, eat, and remember why.

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