THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

'Cinco to drinko?' Not for me, amigo

By Marcela E. Garcia
Globe Correspondent / April 30, 2006

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Cinco de Mayo is here again. Even after almost six years in Boston, I'm still astonished to see excited packs of ''gringos" flock to bars to drink Corona and margaritas or plan elaborate fiestas complete with tequila, guacamole, and nachos con salsa on May 5. The partygoers wonder why I don't celebrate, too; after all, I'm Mexican.

It may surprise some to learn that Cinco de Mayo is not even a federal holiday in México. Banks and government offices are open. Restaurant menus remain the same. And companies don't splurge on ad campaigns named ''Cinco to Drinko" featuring talking piñatas.

Another misconception is that May 5 is our Independence Day. We actually observe that on Sept. 15. That's when our president goes out on a balcony at the Palacio Nacional before thousands.

Then he waves our flag and shouts ''¡Viva México!"

That's when I bring out the Corralejo (my choice of tequila; and no, we don't drink Patrón).

Back to Cinco de Mayo: it commemorates La Batalla de Puebla (The Battle of Puebla), the 1862 rout of 8,000 French soldiers by a ragtag army of 4,000 Mexicans.

This was quite a big deal. An upstart nation defeating a heavily armed invasion force from one of the great powers of Europe.

Though the victory infused Mexicans with pride, the French triumphed a little more than a year later to set up a brief puppet government.

The symbolic value and spirit of the Puebla victory was resuscitated in the 1950s, as Chicanos (Mexican-Americans) in California and Texas began celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

Then, alas, beer companies and big advertising spending recognized the day's marketing potential. I know we Mexicans aren't alone bemoaning hijacked holidays: an Irish friend of mine says the same thing happened here to St. Patrick's Day.

However, as part of the rather small Mexican community in Massachusetts (approximately 50,000, according to the consulate in Boston), I feel the urge to set the record straight: there is much more to Cinco de Mayo - and my home country - than Dos Equis and sombreros one day of the year.

Which is why I'll spend next Friday night just like any other day of the week: cooking with my two Mexican roommates in Brighton, watching the Univisión newscast, and talking on the phone with my mother and sisters about my week.

Marcela E. Garcia is now editor of the Spanish-language weekly newspaper El Planeta, which circulates in the Boston area.