When I moved to the United States and my first 5 de Mayo was around the corner, several people were curious about how I would celebrate what they might have though was a special holiday for me. Some assumed that because I am Mexican, I would enjoy a few Margaritas, eat tacos and dance wearing my most colorful folkloric attire.
I was confused by these expectations. I could not understand why 5 de Mayo was so special. This date commemorates the victory of the Mexican Army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, over the French Empire’s invasion in 1862. It’s also known as the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. It is more of a regional celebration than a national holiday. I suspected many people thought it was the day of the Mexican Independence which in fact is on September 16.
What I have learned since is that in the mid-20th century the celebration of Cinco de Mayo became among Mexican immigrants a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage. The celebration did not take off with a broader demographic until it was explicitly linked with the promotion of Mexican alcoholic beverages — interesting.
I usually do not celebrate it, but I have always admired how the U.S. celebrates other cultures. At the end of the day, we are a country of immigrants and should acknowledge each other’s cultures and contributions, celebrate them because that is what makes ours a unique and interesting country.
This year’s celebrations are bittersweet.
It is a constant struggle to find positive news in hot spots across Iowa as coronavirus cases continue to increase. My heart aches for all those impacted by COVID-19. We are all affected in one way or another during these trying times. I must say that at times I cannot stop my tears after I speak with someone who may have a sick relative, a parent in the hospital or is afraid to go back to work.
Latinos, including many employees of the meat packing plant, have been affected disproportionately by this virus (23% of positive cases in Iowa are Latinos. The total population of Latinos in the state is 6%). Most of them have no choice but to keep working under uncertain and unsafe conditions.
They became essential workers after an executive order was issued by the U.S. President at the end of April. This came after Iowa Gov. Reynolds, Sen. Grassley, Sen. Ernst and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig sent the president a letter concerned for these businesses.
In response to the rising number of sick employees, some are calling for a boycott against the corporations by not buying or eating meat for a month. For some individuals this may be easy to say; they may have an ongoing income, work from home, unemployment benefits, a stimulus check, and/or a broad safety net. Others speaking about a boycott have not spoken directly with the workers to better understand their needs and learn what they are asking for. Headlines do not translate into a coordinated and effective effort; they are just that, headlines.
I had the opportunity of speaking with several plant workers and their families, some only spoke Spanish. Most of them want to keep working, the majority have dedicated their entire lives to these companies. All they are asking is to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality. Don’t we all want the same things? They want to work in a safe environment. At the end of a hard day at the plant, they want to return to their homes, to their loved ones, just not in a coffin.
So, this brings me back to my challenge, to taking a break and combine how we give meaning to our sorrows, and why not, to celebrate too.
This year I decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and invite all of you to celebrate with me. I challenge you to do things that will uplift and help those persons that are most impacted.
Since today is 5 de Mayo, I propose you think of five actions you can take to support the meat packing employees.
Here are some ideas for you:
- My first action will be to call Governor Kim Reynolds and urge her to take the necessary steps to keep those workers safe.
- Another action will be supporting reputable nonprofit organizations with money and time.
- Support reputable organizations that advocate for Latinos and other immigrants working at the plants.
- Learn more about the meat packing crisis by reading books like The Jungle.
- Maintain personal protocols of safety with compassion such as social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands, etc.
Before we get back to our “new normal” and as some restrictions begin to be lifted, we have time, so I encourage you to take me up on this challenge. And to make today festive, call your favorite Mexican restaurant, order some delicious tacos, have some margaritas and join me on a toast for the workers and for brighter and safer days to come.
Feliz 5 de Mayo!
by Claudia Thrane
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