Cinco de Mayo

“You’ll know what we Mexicans are made of..” announced the Spanish version of the film poster advertising “Cinco de Mayo.”

I couldn’t resist. A “Cinco de Mayo” movie in Zihuatanejo.

It was a funky movie theatre, very small; and there were many people, those lovers of muscular action and car chases entering sala #1 to watch “Fast and Furious 6”, and just my husband and I going into sala #2 to see “Cinco de Mayo”. We sat down and stared at the low, blacksheeted walls, the very modest screen, and the five unnecessary signs reading ‘ruta de evacuation’, pointing to the way we had come in. The other movie in sala #1 began first; we listened to the sounds of speeding cars and explosions, so loud in comparison with our humble little room that it seemed like the cars might somehow burst through the wall and jump from one screen to the other. But once our own movie started we had our own sounds, the action of war taking over with impressive intensity. Rafael Lara’s film chronicles the story of the Battle of Puebla, one of Mexico’s most important battles. When the French army invades Mexico to set up a monarchy, the good looking General Ignacio Zarganza defends the city of Puebla, commanding a poorly armed and vastly outnumbered troop of men. A sub plot involves the lives of two Mexican lovers, a young officer ready to defect, and a young woman helping to look after wounded soldiers, and we are caught up in their personal story during the quieter moments when the screen didn’t threaten to explode with the sounds of cannons exploding, soldiers screaming and dying, a stirring soundtrack, or with ‘wrooming’ cars and high speed chases just beyond our screen. At times I wondered if the small theatre could contain the horrific sounds of battle and the screeching of high tec cars, and just when, at a point halfway through the movie, the lights flickered off, we remained in our hard little seats, listening to our reeved up breathing, neither of us speaking, not showing any surprise or disappointment, but neither of us getting up to leave through the one door.

It’s a movie made primarily for political purposes. The majority of Mexican soldiers were unclear about the cause of the war, but many found in patriotism ( especially our young lover ) a strong weapon against a seemingly undefeatable enemy twice its size. Maybe the victory is glorified above the facts: who really knows? Americans made up quite a story about the Alamo, some of it true, some of it false. What’s the ‘correct’ reading of the ‘real’ story? If history is to be employed as a unifying factor in the building of Mexico’s nationhood and the pride of its people, then much more is needed than a dismal tale of humiliation and defeat. And we need heroes, Mexican heroes like our handsome General and his soldiers, and American heroes like our turbo charged Dom and his elite crew of street racers.

The movie “Cinco de Mayo” and other stories like it play an important role in the formation of patriotic sentiment; so do legends and other forms of literature, museums, archeological sites.. If there’s anything poetic in the history of Mexico it’s in the old things: the pyramids and the Aztec ball courts, in Moctezuma upon his chair of gold, in the Piedra del Sol, or the Aztec calendar… The movie does an excellent job telling the story of the Battle of Puebla.. so, rally the troops, and you’ll know what Mexicans are made of.

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