"Cinco de Mayo" - Francisco X. Alarcó


by Francisco X. Alarcón
First of all, Cinco de Mayo
is not the official
Mexican Independence Day,
nor does it commemorate the first
fiesta no matter how convincing
TV commercials might sound —
it’s as unofficial as school
children telling jokes in Spanish
in English-only public schools
Cinco de Mayo is a battle fought
in the city of Puebla in 1862:
an outnumbered, outgunned,
ill-trained and very poor
Mexican army under the command
of Ignacio Zaragoza, a general
born in San Antonio, Texas,
defeated the superbly equipped
professional French army sent
by Napoleon III —  Cinco de Mayo
became a rally of hope for a nation
Cinco de Mayo is a milagrito
que nunca debió pasar pero pasó:
it’s the full-blooded Zapotec
Indian President Benito Juárez
humming: “Sí se puede”
in his forced journeys
zigzagging the Republic —
Ciudad Juárez is named
after this Mexican hero
who never gave up despite
facing superior enemy forces
Cinco de Mayo is primavera,
the bluest of skies y se siente alegría
y ya casi salimos de vacaciones.
Cinco de Mayo is a cry
that starts in the heart,
a drum that keeps calling:
Juan, María, José acuérdense —
it’s Cinco de Mayo
and like any other day:
el Chuy sigue preso
y el Joe is unemployed
y Rosa is a teenager
three months pregnant,
all confused, lost at school,
and without legal papers
Cinco de Mayo was used
once as a legal deadline
intended to close the doors
to thousands who have come
to this country searching
for a dream, a better deal,
a chance to live: who then 
will be the ones to harvest
the vegetables for your salads?
who will make your hotel bed?
who will do the dishes and scrub
the floors in the restaurants?
Cinco de Mayo is community,
familia, a ritual for life,
a collective kiss en la frente,
a rainbow, una empanada,
una canción, un baile, una mirada
Cinco de Mayo is now a rally
for protecting our civil rights
against “reasonable suspicion”
of the mean-spirited, xenephobic
and racist law SB 1070 in Arizona
Cinco of Mayo is a brown David
facing a menacing state Goliath
singing under the Arizona clouds:
“sí, se puede”, “yes, we can do it…”
Cinco de Mayo is a flower watered
by our people's tears of pain and joy:
Cinco de Mayo is each and other day,
a lesson of resistance in a era of defeat

A prolific writer for adults and children, Francisco X. Alarcón (1954-2016) was born in California and grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. Alarcón returned to the United States to attend California State University at Long Beach, and he earned his MA from Stanford University. His collections of poetry for adults include Body in Flames/Cuerpo en llamas (1990); De amor oscuro/Of Dark Love (1991); Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (1992), winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (2002); Ce Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (2010); Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems/Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas (2014); and Canto hondo/Deep Song (2015). 

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