When I was kid, celebrating Mexican Independence day was a very big deal. As a kid I used to see it as a fun day where I gathered around with my dad’s family to listen to Mexican music, make noise, laugh, and let’s be honest, to eat.
My grandma and aunts always made huge efforts cooking and decorating her house with flags, paper ornaments, lights, balloons, placemats, hats, and whatever party prop that was popular that year. I remember those nights fondly, with the excitement and naïveté that one can only have when you’re a child.
As I grew up, el quince became a day to reflect and be proud. Whenever I think about it, I still don’t quite understand why I felt so patriotic, I don’t know where that came from, given that neither of my parents were ever like that, nor did they make me feel like I had to feel that way.
I think I picked up those things from school, from History classes that taught me that too much blood had been shed for this country and that I had the responsibility to honor the lives that were lost so that all of us could enjoy what we have today. And that’s exactly the part that I question now as an adult who knows better: who is this “us”?
I believe that History is a power tool. The way we remember and tell History always assumes that progress has been made, that we are better now than we were before, that people who fought and lost their lives for a cause were perfect and pure. We need to believe they were good because their cause was good.
I don’t think this is exclusive to Mexicans, it’s a very human thing to do to latch on to narratives of heroes and foes. Of course, that is unless the narrative still excludes you. James Baldwin poignantly described this phenomenon happening in the U.S. when he said that, “It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”
These days I am trying really hard to shed light on my privileges. I understand I have been given opportunities that not everyone in my country has, some I earned, but most of them I didn’t. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean I don’t deserve them –although I’m obviously biased– it just means that being deserving of something is not really the condition by which one earns it. I know of a lot of people who deserve what I have, who are as –or even more– hardworking than I am, but they don’t have access to the things I do. I can also say that I’ve met people who could not be less deserving of what they have and yet, there they have it.
Going back to Mexico every year and seeing the great inequalities people experience makes me angry. I am no longer unaware, I am able to recognize that the “us” that was taught to me in school does not include everyone. I’ve seen the strings that hold the puppets that we call heroes. I recognize that this stage was set up with the only purpose to keep people like me content with a version of History that claimed to include us.
And then, the reality is that even with all the privileges I’ve been able to enjoy, my country still fails me. I am a woman who comes from a country where 11 women are murdered every day. Writing this sentence brings tears to my eyes, it gives me un nudo en la garganta y una patada en el estómago. It makes me anxious. It makes me angry.
I think of all the women I love, I see them walking on the street, going to work, shopping en el mercado, cruising in the mall, enjoying a beer at a bar, hopping on a bus, knowing that they do all these things in spite of the fear that looms in their lives. Always aware of their surroundings, asking each other to send a mensajito cuando lleguen a su casa, trying to do everything “right” so they don’t become one more name in what seems to be an endless list of women who have been murdered or have gone missing.
Mexico has failed all women because it’s a country of femicides. A country built on the backs and arms of matriarchs and women kills them and it could not care any less.
I try not to be naïve and ignorant, I understand that the risk of being murdered, raped, or kidnapped is not the same for all Mexican women. I am aware that the risk is much higher for those who are poor, indigenous, LGBTQ, disabled, and children. Yes, girls are raped and murdered in Mexico.
For the most part, I know that the women I love are safer than most, but I am painfully aware that this does not mean they are safe. I live knowing that there’s the possibility that one day I could pick up the phone and hear that my worst fear has happened.
How sad to see that all the women who cook and decorate for el quince are celebrating a country that fails them. To see that our History is weaponized against us when women dare to protest and destroy monuments and paintings because they’ve discovered our heroes are foes.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador uses our History against us, he condemns the women who demand justice for femicides and who have taken the offices of the Human Rights Bureau while vandalizing property, including a painting of Francisco Madero, the famous Mexican Revolutionary. Isn’t that ironic? To use a symbol of Revolution to perpetuate an unjust status quo, I can’t think of anything more incongruous.
I welcome this coming quince conflicted. I don’t want to celebrate el grito, I don’t want to see the President, I don’t want to think of the lives lost between 1810-1821. I want to think about the lives lost today, I want to think about those women protesting in all corners of Mexico, they are my heroes for daring to do what I don’t.
On that day I will cook Mexican food because even though I’m not sure I still love Mexico, I do love being Mexican. I will look into my child’s eyes, those capulines with the longest eyelashes I have ever seen and teach him that History and heritage are not the same thing. I will celebrate my heritage with him and reinforce my commitment to raise a decent person.
It wasn’t until my son was born that I finally understood that maybe all of what I described above is the reason why Cinco de Mayo exists. I can finally understand the need to celebrate Mexicans, not Mexico. But that is a piece I’ll save for another day.
Note: I no longer italicize my Spanish. I will not offer explanatory commas or cues about my identity, lo puedes googlear.