It’s a springtime tradition steeped in battle cries, beer, and bi-nationalism — but mostly beer.
Saturday will mark the 156th Cinco de Mayo, and depending on who you talk to, the annual holiday — recognized culturally, but not statutorily, in both the United States and Mexico — is either a cause for celebration, or just another day of the month.
“We do the same thing every year — specials on beer and food,” said Roberto Gutierrez, an employee at El Sol, a local restaurant that celebrates Cinco de Mayo. “Like every year, I hope this year is fun for [the customers].”
The restaurant sees increased patronage on the holiday, Gutierrez said Tuesday.
“Always,” he said. “It’s a big difference.”
Gutierrez’s history in the restaurant business has fostered within him a fondness for the holiday, he said.
“I’ve been working restaurants for about 10 years,” Gutierrez said. “So, I like [Cinco de Mayo]. It’s fun.”
However, aside from the celebrators he sees every May, Gutierrez doesn’t feel much personal connection to the holiday, he said.
“We don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo much in Mexico...I’m not sure why [celebration] started here,” Gutierrez said.
For Sam Pacheco Jr., the holiday’s significance lies in its 19th century origins. Pacheco is the owner of Maria’s Mexican Cafe, 314 S. Main St., Ottawa.
“Many people here don’t really know what [Cinco de Mayo] is, or what it is about,” Pacheco said Tuesday. “They think it’s Mexican Independence Day, which actually is the 16th of September.”
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the underdog victory of the Mexican Army over French forces during the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5th, 1862. Four days after the battle, then-Mexican president Benito Juárez declared the day a national holiday.
Though he’s familiar with the holiday’s origins, Maria’s doesn’t commemorate Cinco de Mayo, Pacheco, said.
“We don’t do anything special; we never have,” he said. “We are normally closed on that day anyway.”
Drawing on his years of watching Cinco de Mayo revelers come and go, Gutierrez sees the holiday as an opportunity for unity in a polarized time.
“I think it’s a day for people to be more...together,” Gutierrez said. “It’s not only Spanish people who are celebrating. It’s everybody.”