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Cinco de Mayo festivities begin

DANIELLE MALOTT/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tucson residents Vanessa Celaya and Heather Camolli perform with the Escaramusa Flor de Primavera during yesterday's Cinco de Mayo celebration at Tucson Bargain Center on East Irvington Road and Interstate 10.
By Cara O'Connor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday May 5, 2003

This weekend many UA students put down their books and picked up 99-cent Coronas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but few knew what they were celebrating.

Cinco de Mayo does not honor Mexican Independence Day, as many students think; rather, it marks the anniversary of the Mexican victory in 1862 over Napoleon III's French army at Puebla, Mexico.

But some students said they don't pay much attention to the history behind the celebration.

"Really, people just use it as an excuse to get drunk and not to embrace the actual relevance of the battle," said Cliff Mason, an interdisciplinary studies junior.

"It's another excuse to party, just like St. Patty's Day," said undeclared sophomore Urian S. Pickett.

And party they did.

Saturday night, the line at El Charro CafŽ on East Broadway Boulevard went halfway through the parking lot and the wait was more than an hour at 11 p.m., said hostess Brenda Trujillo.

"Cinco de Mayo is always big for us," she said. "We have a huge Cinco de Mayo."

The festivities will continue tonight, but some students said they plan to stay home and study.

"I would love to celebrate it. However, it falls on a Monday right before finals, and sometimes you've just got to be responsible," Mason said.

El Parador Mexican Restaurant manager Brian Stegall said the restaurant will not hold its usual Cinco de Mayo celebration simply because it's a Monday.

No matter what day it is though, the meaning behind Cinco de Mayo is not lost on everyone.

Pima Community College freshman Vanessa Celaya, 18, and her sister Janet, 21, who attends NAU, celebrated Mexican tradition yesterday by show-riding in Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Grande at the Tucson Bargain Center this weekend.

The Celayas performed with the Escaramusa Flor de Primavera riding group. An "escaramusa" or "soldadera" is the term for a woman who followed the Mexican soldiers into battle to help care for them and to boost morale.

The sisters, who rode sidesaddle with other performers, wore traditional 19th-century Mexican costumes.

"(The dresses) are reminiscent of the Īlelitas' and the Īsoldaderas' who fought with the men in the Mexican revolution," Janet Celaya said.

A group of "charros," or Mexican cowboys, from Nogales also performed at the fiesta. They rode horses and performed "trick-roping" with lassos.

The charros and escaramusas rode as the Mexican men and women did when the Battle of Puebla occurred.

The Mexican victory in the battle, which occurred 100 miles east of Mexico City, helped the U.S, which was in the midst of the Civil War. By defeating the French, the Mexicans kept Napoleon III from providing supplies to the Confederacy.

After the battle, American forces near the Texas/Mexico border supplied the Mexicans with weapons and ammunition. Years later, Mexicans crossed the border to join U.S. forces after Pearl Harbor.

Even though many students are unfamiliar with the history of the day, some said now is a better time than ever to learn about it.

"It's a reason to party, but I personally think it is a good opportunity for people to get more history," said Ovett Chapman, president of Omega Delta Phi multicultural fraternity.

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