I want to take a moment to talk about salsa and battle. The salsa is the authentic Mexican kind. Not the American industrial version in a jar, but the kind Mexicans have been making for centuries from six (perhaps seven, if one adds cilantro) basic ingredients: jitomate, sal, ajo, chile, limón, and cebolla. One prepares this simple salsa, commonly called salsa al molcajete, in a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock, a kitchen implement that’s been around, I imagine, since the Aztecs and Mayans. The battle was against the French.
On Thursday, May 4, my students and I recalled the Batalla de Puebla, a battle fought on May 5, 1862 in the state of Puebla, Mexcio, to stave off the advancement of the French army of Napoleon III and his intervention in Mexico. This hard-won battle, fought between a modern and well-equipped French army and a rag-tag and essentially untrained Mexican army, gave the Mexicans a sense of unity, a sense of pride, and a sense of being Mexican.
I want to clarify a myth. Cinco de Mayo is not traditionally celebrated in Mexico nor does it celebrate Mexican independence. It was a celebration mostly for Chicanos, a term that has mostly fallen out of use in the United States, but generally refers to Americans of Mexican parentage. In their celebration of Cinco de Mayo, they remember what it is to be of Mexican decent, to honor their heritage.
This simple salsa reminds me of my time in Mexico. It reminds me of the simplicity of life and what it means to bring together a few basic ingredients all Mexicans have at their disposal, rich or poor, city or countryside, north or south. On May 4, my classes and I recalled the Batalla de Puebla, but we mostly recalled what it means to come together around simple ingredients, despite our differences, and enjoy a purely Mexican thing.
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