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So: What The Hell is Cinco De Mayo?

old-school-cinco-de-mayo
Image Source: San Diego Free Press

I grew up up rural western Pennsylvania, and I never even heard about Cinco De Mayo until I was grown up. I mean: hell, we didn’t even have tacos until the 1980s. Not in the town where I lived. Even after I first heard of Cinco De Mayo, I just assumed it was another one of those foreign holidays we Americans like so much to appropriate, an obscure (often stern and religious) celebration, like St Patrick’s Day, that we explode into full-blown binge-fests of sin an libertine indulgences–you know, because we can’t help our ingrained need to rebel against the puritanical undercurrent of our bawdy culture. And Cinco De Mayo is well on the way–just watch all the college bars running promotions backed by the makers of Mexican-themed beer and booze.

So, what the hell is it?

It is not, as I thought, a sort of Mexican Fourth of July.  Nor does it have anything to do with dead people–that’s Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead,  but I understand your confusion: all those foreign holidays sound the same to us.

Cinco de Mayo does commemorate a Mexican military victory over the invading French army on May 5, 1862, but the holiday has always been a much bigger deal in the USA because Mexican latinos realized, in beating back the French, that the Union could also win the Civil War.

Wait? What Union? Do I mean Lincoln and Grant and all those guys?

Yep. The French, you see, being back in the Empire game under Napolean III (you’d think they would have learned after the first two) naturally allied themselves with the the Confederacy, with their mutually twisted dreams of idealized courtly fairytale nonsense. Most Hispanics, on the other hand, weren’t thrilled about France’s stated goal of crushing a thriving young democracy and restoring a Mexican monarchy (under France’s auspices, of course); nor were they thrilled with slavery. Or Texas, which had pretty much been taken from Mexico by force, and was still a haven for vicious mercenary raiders who, fancying themselves freedom fighters, crossed the border into Mexico to steal, rape, scalp and murder Native Americans and Mexicans alike.

Hispanics in the American west saw a two-fronted war, with the confederacy to the east and the French pushing from the south, and in California and Oregon in particular it seemed that the army of freedom and democracy had struck a huge blow against the elitist forces of slavery and monarchy. It had little to do with Mexican patriotism–it was about defending freedom and democracy.

In fact, Latinos were joining the Union army, Union cavalry, Union navy. Spanish language newspapers in the west closely covered every single battle of the Civil War.

Networks of Latino groups called “juntas patrioticas mejicanas,” or Mexican patriotic assemblies, mostly in California but also in Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, with 14,000 members, organized parades, speeches, dances, banquets and bull fights as a morale builder for President Lincoln and Mexican President Benito Juarez, and from 1862 to 1867, the public memory of Cinco de Mayo was forged in the American West.

In the years after the Civil War, veterans of the Union and Mexican armies would put on their uniforms and give speeches every Cinco de Mayo but the meaning of the holiday changed as years passed, first becoming a David versus Goliath tale among Mexican immigrants in the 1900s, then morphing into a celebration of U.S.-Mexican unity during World War II. In the 1960s, the meaning shifted towards pride in Mexican heritage and on in the past decade has become what Professor David Hayes-Bautista calls an, “undeniable commercialization in the late 20th century, a fake holiday recently invented by beverage companies. Now it’s become this big commercial holiday and a wonderful opportunity to get services and products in front of the Latino market and it even got its own postage in 1996 and in 2005 President Bush even had a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/cinco-de-mayo-party-history_n_1471509.html

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/history/article20229972.html

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War Is Cruelty, And You Cannot Refine It

Excuse me a moment while I alienate all the southerners reading this blog….

Sherman_sea_1868

This is General William Tecumseh Sherman on scenic horse ride through Georgia–I got in a bit of a kerfluffle with a southern stranger on Pinterest last year after I 86c237077812f258c8a367c7e5c7f7depinned the image to the right on the photo saving site, along with a favorite Sherman quote, one I find continually compelling, particularly in light of the penchant for many passionate southerners to look back on the history of the time through the rose tinted glasses of “northern aggression” and all that revisionist bullshit.  If nothing else Sherman reminds us that the South started the war.

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.”

I have no love of the man, whose reasoned barbarism in the civil war was surpassed by his cruelty in the “Indian Wars” that followed–but I found the woman attacking me to be intolerable.

Linda Ricker • 39 weeks ago

“If you had ANY idea whatsoever of what he and his men did to many southern families and their children, you would NOT admire this man at all! He and his men were nothing shy of satan himself! He and his men raped women while their husbands were off fighting. They raped and molested the children while they made the mothers watch. They stole our things and shipped them up North via railways and rivers and the ocean. War is horrible enough, but he and his men made it HELL!”

Junk Chuck • 39 weeks ago

“…because slavery wasn’t cruel? Approximately 10 million captive slaves were killed in bondage in North America, another 1.2-2 million died en route, and as many as 6 million died as an indirect result of the slave trade in Africa. I contend that the numbers of enslaved families were far greater, and the crimes perpetrated upon them far more heinous than the experience of the average southern family. I understand that southern history books teach differently, but Master raped and molested far more efficiently, and far frequently, than did the soldiers in Sherman’s armies. I’m sorry your things were stolen and shipped north–maybe your ancestors shouldn’t have stolen people’s children and sold them. I never see that goddamned rebel flag, the emblem of hate and murder and greed and racism (not a signet of some misguided idea of idyllic, romanticized “southern pride”) that I don’t feel sick to my stomach. The glorious south perpetrated feudalistic genocide and got what was coming to them.”

$(KGrHqFHJEQFC1Y23KpSBQ3ceq6Do!~~60_1The glorification of southern slave culture is something that piques my ire with a singular, venomous sting.  A bunch of Nazis get together to celebrate old times, and we’re convening international tribunals, but we’re perfectly fine with these “rebel” yahoos?  I’m posting this after spending half an hour on the highway recently behind a diesel 4×4 riding crazy huge rims and bearing the following bumper stickers. (These are the the same images, though not on the vehicle in question–I found them readily enough on the internet.)
welfare

 obamidt-300x225dontrenigin2012Now, what I find so–I guess “amusing” isn’t the word, maybe “ironic” or humorously contradictory, is this connection between self-styled conservatives and the iconography of southern rebellion.  The rebel flag is, at it’s basest, a symbol of contempt for America and American ideals, and while our constitution thankfully protects the rights of rednecks and idiots to spit on and disdain those ideals, it could be argued that embracing the confederate flag–the flag of a nation that is NOT the USA I might add–is, at best, an act of anti-patriotism.  Isn’t that just the kind of thing about which conservatives are so often foaming at the mouth?  Remember “Freedom fries?”  Lapel pins?  Just recently President Obama was criticized for carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and saluting the Marine guard as he stepped from his helicopter as being insufficiently patriotic.

321dog4296 AP05042204298 bush_barney_salute finger

Opps!  Wrong photos.

Yeh, I couldn’t resist that, even though it dilutes and distracts from my argument.  What I’d like to see, next time Obama steps off the chopper, is him dramatically throwing his styrofoam cup to the ground, then fervently salute the Marines before grabbing them on the shoulders and kissing them, one after the other, euro-style, first on one cheek then the other.  Of course, he’d then not only have all the usual trolls riding him, but the Sierra Club would be all over his ass for the litter.

MJZ598The point is this: how can people be so damned touchy about patriotism at one moment, then turn around and…well, what am I saying?  We’re humans, after all, wreathed in complexity and contradiction, glorious reminders of the…no, not that, either–because it’s all a perfect plan, right?  Aren’t inconsistencies at odds with the intelligent design that’s been fine-tuning us for every one of the 3,000 years or so that there has been life on Earth?  So, no–I don’t get it.

france_alsace_flag_sticker-rf27429c58b524fbe8ba5dac2d09b238c_v9waf_8byvr_324
And you thought they didn’t make these!

I learned not so long ago that “you’re either for us or against us.” I can deal with that.  I can get behind that.  My earliest relatives arrived here in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century from England, Scotland, and Alsace, and as far as I know none of them ever looked back. I certainly don’t fly an Alsatian flag on my lawn, or stick one on the bumper of my ILUV (impractically large utility vehicle).  Of course, given the proud martial history of Alsace, I’m not sure it would intimidate anyone, but oh, the beer….

The other thing that occurs to me is that the glorious armies of the Confederate States of America totally and unequivocally got their asses handed to them on a plate…and yes, perhaps they didn’t run, but only because they were left to stumble home shoeless, starving, bloody and broken.  Indeed, the fact that southern cultures exists at all is owed to the decision, made by the Northern leadership, to try to repair the nation rather than treat the south as, perhaps, it should have been treated: as the hostile, former homeland of a conquered and bitter enemy–like the way Israel treats Palestine. I mean, if you’re not going to be grateful….

N370
No.

Just remember, this juxtoposition is inherently flawed.  The two flags, and two mindsets, are incompatible.  One cannot have it both ways–the two are mutally exclusive.  Or, as a not all that wise woman liked to say, “America, love it or leave it.”

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Theme Thursday: Coal Country

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m fond of having themes among the posts on this blog–the continuity is nice, and it’s somewhat inspiring when faced with a blank page to have a theme to fall back on.  The idea of the setting on Coal sneaked up on me from two directions: last week, the student-operated TV station from my alma mater and hometown university, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, ran an excellent documentary made Dr. Jim Dougherty, called The Struggle For Our American Way of Life, that I was fortunate enough to stumble into.  Produced and researched locally, I learned a lot that I should have known, such as the level of hostility local political leaders and media had for the miners of the time–our ancestors treated the predominantly Italian and Eastern European immigrant workers just as badly as we treat our immigrant laborers today, even as so much of our wealth is harvested almost directly from their sweat and blood, as it was then.

kkk1I learned that my hometown, a clean and thriving University community that was, at the time, the headquarters of the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company, was also a bastion of economically and socio-politically motivated ethnic bigotry, and a bastion of the Ku Klux Klan which, in these parts, was not closd to content with terrorizing black black people–they were equally at war with Italians and Eastern Europeans, particularly Catholics–often murderously so.

That’s a hard pill to swallow.  I’m a guy who still regards the American South with suspicion, 150 years after the civil war, which makes it pretty shocking to see headlines on the local paper–the same paper I read daily today and often link to on this site–crowing about rallies of 35,000 Klansmen being held on a farm two miles south of town.  This isn’t particularly shocking news–a few years back some yahoos burned a cross in the front yard of one of my wife’s students, and a few years before that some other friends of ours found a swastika spray painted on their Obama campaign sign outside their farm.  Of course, it’s easy to take a deep breath and consider the likelihood that those sorts of things are the acts of a few marauding idiots.

35,000 hooded, hateful cretins is a whole different ballgame.

You don’t grow up here without connections to coal. My wife’s family all arrived here in the early 20th century–Italians, Slovaks, and Czechs–and most of the men worked in the mines, lived in company-owned towns, shopped at company-owned stores. My father-in-law, whose career took him to the natural gas fields, is an articulate, quietly dignified man, who didn’t begin to speak English until he was six years old–not that you could tell from meeting him.  My father was raised at the end of a red dog road in the small mining town of Hollsopple, PA, though that side of our family was less intertwined in the mines–my grandfather was a steelworker for Bethlehem Works. Most of my fraternal kin were farmers. Some still are. Others are professionals, musicians, college professors–all of us owing back to the hardscrabble backbreaking labors of past generations.

1-2-C7D-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0j8b6-a_349It’s on my mother’s side where things get interesting.  It was very different over there, where several different ancestors made their way here in the 17th century, and just about all of them had crossed over by the French and Indian War.  That side of my family settled in Cambria and Bedford counties, particularly Windber, PA, where my great-grandfather (with whom I share a middle name), was “Burgess”–or Mayor–for a string of years in the 1930s, and was well-respected as a local leader.  I was raised to worship this fellow who died before I was born.  He “got the streets paved” in Windber, among other accomplishments, and was rather infamous in refusing to accept a nomination to run for Governor, but what shook me was the discovery that my Great Grandfather’s lofty accomplishments had been born primarily from his position as a manager in the Berwind-White Coal Company (Berwind = Windber, get it?), as was that of all the town government, and the Burgesses who both proceeded and followed him–yep, the great Patriarch got his power from being a dutiful lackey.  Worse still, in his capacities as both a mayor and a company manager, he had been instrumental in the brutal–and successful, sadly–efforts to prevent the immigrant miners in town from unionizing.  The historic campaign, the second of two infamous and historically important pro-Union strikes in Windber, was steeped in conflict and violence.

It’s a strange thing, to grow up hearing tales of a great ancestor, only to learn that the man you were raised to admire was on the wrong side of history, and a villain to those who have my sympathies.  Union-busting is, in my mind, a heinous row to hoe–but that was the guy, or at least one of them, for whom I was named.

*Opps!  This was a draft that I accidentally posted when I’d meant to save it, but since it’s been up for several hours I’ll leave it.  The errors will, eventually, disappear, but the abrupt ending will remain.  I’ll continue it at a later date–maybe next Thursday. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jim Crow, Thy Middle Name Is Kansas

I’ve been through Kansas a few times–it doesn’t seem like a bad place: Kansas-Sunflowerslots of sunflowers to go with the wheat, though it’s awfully flat, which puts that whole tornado alley/Wizard of Oz thing is perspective.  One of my very favorite people loved Kansas, and while he lived there only briefly I’ll forever attach his affection to the place.  My wife and I even spent an absolutely wonderful night camping under the stars at Cedar Bluff State Park, about a thousand years ago.  I’ve followed some of the weirder stuff to come out of that state in the years since, specifically the science vs. bible new earth foolishness, but I have to admit I did little more than snicker a little and write it off to old-fashioned stubbornness.

flatHow backwards could they be?  After all, Kansas was a fertile field for abolitionists during the civil war, and some of the fiercest fighting during the war took place in Kansas and Missouri, as militias, guerrillas, and old school n’er do wells on both sides fought tooth and nail over Kansas and it’s status as a free state. Indeed, the term Jayhawker, which has become synonymous with “Kansan” originally referenced the fierce anti-slavery John_Brown_Paintingirregulars who fought against the primarily Missouri-based pro-slavery “Border Ruffians.”  This is a state which the legendary John Brown, one of America’s greatest sons, called home, and where his image–and the freedom he has come to represent–is immortalized on the very structure of the Kansas Capital building.

It befuddles me to no end that the state of Kansas would gleefully reject and spit upon that legacy by embracing a set of laws that would effectively establish homosexuals as second class citizens, making it legal for Kansas businesses or individuals to treat them as Black Americans were treated in the south during the days of Jim Crow.  Indeed, the Kansas law may be worse, as it also limits–and in many cases eliminates–the options for redress against such open bigotry.

The law, Kansas Bill 2453, not only carries us backwards a hundred years, but it allows bigots to act on their suspicions, not just facts. Should a business owner decide that I might be gay, he can throw me out on my ear–or you.  Or your parents.  Your children.  Anything goes in a bill that is so purposefully vague that it can be twisted to validate just about any bigotry short of physical violence.

The entire movement is so ludicrous–the vast majority of white Christian Americans are being represented as being religiously oppressed by the relatively small number of homosexuals.  Imagine a room full of 100 people, 96 of whom start beating the shit out of the other 4 percent.  Now, imagine that 96 percent claiming that they are oppressed by the 4 percent who are their victims.

Ironically, folks my age and older will remember when being on the side of “the Russians” was a terrible thing to be constantly summoned by conservatives. Well, where are the Kansan bigots finding their strongest support right now?  You guessed it: Russia.  Way to go, comrades.

On the other hand, Kansas is home to the Westboro Baptist Church–a weird-ass hate-cult that tortures the bible to justify their message of 56363689venomous, violent animosity towards homosexuals and–oddly enough– American war dead.  Yes, Westboro has reserved a place in what Shepherd Book called “that special part of hell”, but who would have thought that the Republicans of the Kansas House of Representatives would go ahead and establish a place for themselves in the same zip code.

Now, I’m reading that it’s not quite a done deal.  The Kansas House got a free one–nobody really expected that these crackpots would actually go out and make themselves look like such a band of backwardsassed buffoons, so they didn’t hear a lot of protesting before the vote–but since then the sky has sort of opened up, raining down a fierce storm of dissent and putting the fear God (more irony) into the Kansas Senate, who are scrambling for ways to be rational and vote against this debacle without alienating the extreme right-wing teat upon which so many of them feed.

This doesn’t change the fact that this happened, or that these yahoos managed to push this through the house with a convincing margin of success.  Rational people aren’t going to forget this, nor will the growing reputation of Kansas at a laughingstock diminish any time soon.  It’s my hope, as it always is when the crazy pull off a coup, is that the resulting backlash will propel the mainstream further towards the future, but as the maxim goes: only time will tell.  It’s quite possible, from what we’ve seen this far, that Kansas will collapse in on itself so completely, so irrevocably, that it condenses into a super-dense black hole no bigger than a pea.

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The State of the Union is COLD

Mrs. Junk and I watched President Obama deliver yet another State of the Union address last night, though I did so with mixed emotions due to the President’s inconsiderate preemption of one of the three hours of television I most enjoy each week–Person of Interest. I’m interested in politics and have very strong opinions that do not easily fit either the liberal or conservative labels, but in the end I’m much more excited about the latest adventures of Howard Finch, The Man In The Suit, Ms. Shaw, Root, and the gang than I am about the combination of boasting and wishful thinking that invariably fills this annual festival of Beltway Make-Believe.  I mean, Finch and The Man In The Suit routinely get the job done in less than an hour–at the most, they would need one of those sweeps-season 3-part arcs to get this country back on it’s feet.  Obama and that Ship of Fools we call Congress can’t manage a damn thing.

Perhaps, if the President walked out to the podium, nodded to the cameras, and said something like, “The state of the Union is better, but it still sucks, and not a little bit either.”  That would get my attention.

But this isn’t a tantrum about politics–we all know the score: nothing gets done until the last minute, until the conservatives resist long enough to satisfy their corporate leash-holders and quench the demands of the dwindling, but still influential, righteous ecclesiastics–or, more specifically, the cynical operators who manipulate the legitimate spiritual beliefs of generally good religious people in a sledgehammer of division and distraction.  That’s the function of conservatives in our political system–to fight tooth and nail against forward momentum of any sort, to resist any disruption of the status quo and, finally, to be dragged–always kicking and screaming–into the future as if any movement at all could be their very last, and the very last for our blessed, holy nation.

Liberals, of course, come with their own particularly annoying tendencies–wussy thin-skinned hypersensitivity, arrogance, a glowering disdain for tradition, blind reliance on government as an engine for social change, wildly unrealistic idealism and the will to impose that idealism by force–for our own good, if necessary–and the list goes on.  As I most closely identify with the left, my criticisms against that side are both more numerous and more nuanced.  I look at politics like looking at a bunch of children who’ve made a mess of things–some I just dismiss as “bad,” but the ones I know, the ones who are mine, are “disappointing”–they’re not just guilty of breaking the rules, they’ve broken my heart a little.

I’m tired of caring about the whole wagon train–we know the drill: angry Indians, soulless bandits, desperate river-crossings, betrayal at the hands of a trusted compatriot, disease, a snowstorm just before sudden and teh sacrifice of a hero leads to unexpected survival and a happy ever after.  The sad thing is, one of these days the bandits are going to kill that hero in the early going–or maybe s/he’ll drown in the river–and the hole damned adventure takes a turn towards Donner Party country.  That’s my worry about the good ol’ USA–one of these days, there will be no hero to save us in the final moments of the movie.