Feliz Cinco de Mayo
First let me start with a brief description of this day. Being of Mexican heritage, I’ve had to explain it on a regular basis. So, I thought I’d just give a quick rambling, if only to say: This day is not just about margaritas and tortilla chips (although I find nothing wrong with either of those things and hope to partake in both shortly).
The first thing that I find myself reminding people of is this: Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico's Independence Day (which is actually September 16th or midnight of the 15th depending one what you’re reading). Instead, it is in celebration of the day, May 5th, 1862, when 4,000 members of the Mexican Militia defeated 8,000 members of the French army in the town of Puebla. (Napoleon wanted to take over and install Maximilian as ruler of Mexico).

A year later Napoleon succeeded, and then of course they were ousted in 1867 with the “help” of the United States. But the thing that I find the most celebratory about the day is that it’s a day when the little guy overpowered the big guy. Our own Mexican story of David and Goliath. And if poetry identifies with anything it’s the little guy. The littlest of the littlest guy. The tiniest littlest guy or girl even. Like a cumquat. Poetry is like a cumquat battling a giant.
The second thing that you need to remember is that Octovio Paz is not the only Mexican poet. And there are many anthologies where you can read some beautiful Mexican poetry being written right now, as well as Chicano/a (I know that “o/a” was very Chicana Studies of me, no? Prof. would be proud) anthologies too. I'd list them all, but I'm doing this a bit on the fly.
Now, if I were you and was wondering how to celebrate today, I’d go and toast to poetry. And if I lived in New York, I’d do it by acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the Louder ARTS Project. Tonight at Bar 13 in New York City, featuring Thomas Sayers Ellis and Patricia Smith, Louder ARTS turns a whole 10 years old. The Louder Arts Project is an amazing group that keeps the love of language alive throughout the city. Also Louder ARTS helped to establish Acentos, a Latino reading series that is one of my favorite readings to attend in the city.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo, let us fiercely defend poetry to the end. Tiny cumquats though we may be.

Originally Published: May 5th, 2008

Ada Limón is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), This Big Fake World (2006), Sharks in the Rivers (2010), and Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award. She earned an MFA from New York University, and is the recipient of...

  1. May 5, 2008
     Oscar Bermeo

    Hey Ada,
    Thanks for giving louderARTS and Acentos a shout out. This is a good time to note how generous you were with your time and presence at your first Acentos feature.

  2. May 5, 2008
     RIch Villar

    Thanks, Ada, for the shout out. I will be at 13 tonight...actually in about an hour!...reading a poem called "El Profe's Guide to Latina/o Identity in America." Latino Studies majors, stand up! And of course I'll be at Acentos on May 13th.
    This is also a good time to note how generous you were at your SECOND Acentos feature. :-)
    (side note: I was feeling your post on horse racing. My Dad and I bonded many a time watching the Hambletonian and gasping for a cigar-free moment at the Meadowlands racetrack in Jersey (they've since banned smoking).
    Werd, indeed!

  3. May 5, 2008
     Ada Limon

    Thanks you guys. You're too kind. But really Acentos is such a key reading series in NYC and I've always had an amazing time reading and/or listening. I hope you all had a blast tonight, wish I could have joined you.

  4. May 5, 2008
     Emily Warn

    So that's why I saw three guys on Harley's pulling giant Dos Equis and Cuervo Gold bottles down Clark Street (in Chicago) past overflowing bars. I'm glad to know the history behind the booze fest. Thanks!

  5. May 6, 2008
     wendy g martin

    Cinco de Mayo was celebrated on the cinco de dos in Portland, Oregon. On the Willamette river. Huge fireworks exploded the sky into what looked like shimmering, coloured pieces of broken glass-all up in the sky and filling the sky. Most of the people were Mexicans and south Americans. But that isn't to say that there were not alot of whites.
    I am white. Cinco de Mayo means to me the first time that I met my endocrinologist. He burst into his office, somewhat like a huge firecracker, and he wished me a wonderful Cinco de Mayo!
    "Do you really celebrate Cinco de Mayo?" I asked. "No," he said. This was in 2005.
    It is now 2008. The building that I watch over in Portland downtown southwest, has a glass ceiling over the lobby. It was Cinco de dos. And this is what it means to me.

  6. May 7, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    I guess I'm two days late, but wanted to say that "Poetry is like a cumquat battling a giant" is one memorable line.
    I'm on my way in two weeks to Mexico (to Puebla, in fact!), to do some research on Nahuatl poetry, with my friend, Norbert Francis, of Northern Arizona U., who is one of the leading scholars on bi-lingual education in Nahuatl communities.
    Que vivan los cumquats!

  7. May 7, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Bilingual. And I'd just come from giving an Intermediate Spanish final.
    Some hyphens are more embarrassing than others...

  8. May 16, 2008

    Thanks Ke-nt,
    I've awful fond of the word cumquat. And the fruit itself. Have an amazing time in Puebla! Sounds wonderful. And feel free to keep me posted on anything you learn on Nahuatl poetry. I would love to know more.
    All the best,