DENVER — This was supposed to be a rant.
A rant against the Corona-drinking, On the Border-eating, Chihuahua-walking, margarita-sipping, George Lopez-watching public that celebrates Cinco de Mayo without a clue.
In a nation driven by the corporate dollar — I believe Christmas promotions will begin sometime next week — Cinco de Mayo has become another excuse to go out and party.
Much of the tequila drinking is done by people who are under the false impression that May 5 is Mexican Independence Day and whose closest tie to Mexico is the trip they took to Mazatlan for spring break.
The ammunition for a rant was plentiful and I was ready to start shooting like Speedy Gonzalez in those old Bugs Bunny cartoons.
It took just a few minutes with Eduardo Najera to set me straight.
Najera, a forward for the Denver Nuggets, is the only Mexican-born player in the NBA. He came to the United States as a teenager and attended high school in San Antonio before going to the University of Oklahoma on a basketball scholarship.
Figuring that Najera would have some things to get off his chest about the Americanizing of Cinco de Mayo, I sought him out for some good material to back my intended rant.
The interview started out just as I had planned.
“It’s not a holiday,’’ Najera said. “We never celebrated it.’’
That’s it, Eduardo. Tell it like it is, mi amigo.
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“We knew what it meant to us and about the history of Cinco de Mayo, but it’s more like a quiet holiday (in Mexico).
“Here, they celebrate, they go out and get a few margaritas, get the Mexican food rolling, but personally I never really did that until I got to the U.S.’’
Wait a sec. Did I hear right? Until you got the U.S.? They sucked you in?
The corporate giants, with their 30-second commercials and promises of two-for-one margaritas, got you, too?
Dios, mio. Say it ain’t so, Eduardo.
“I believe that we should do it the same way in Mexico,’’ Najera says. “I think it’s great, what they do. I’ve done it. I like doing it now. It is a big, big day in Mexican history.
“Get the margaritas going and the tequila. I think it’s cool.’’
Celebration, and a cerveza
At this point, I need a cooling off period, myself.
How can I be upset that America has put the Inc. in Cinco de Mayo if Najera embraces the U.S. version without complaint?
Like every other holiday in America, Cinco de Mayo is overblown, but why should that bother me?
I take pride in my Mexican roots, so recognition and celebration of my family culture can hardly be considered a bad thing.
It can even be educational. Just think how many of your friends you can impress with a bit of Mexican trivia as you polish off another cerveza. Tell them that Cinco de Mayo is a fiesta that commemorates a small town’s victory over the French in 1862.
Napoleon was on a power trip, and he sent 6,500 troops to conquer Mexico City. The plan was foiled by a determined group of 4,500 soldiers during the Battle of Puebla.
This, of course, only further ticked off Napoleon, who sent 30,000 more troops and ultimately gained control of Mexico. The United States eventually lent support to its neighbor to the south, leading to the end of French rule, and Cinco de Mayo remained a proud moment for Mexico.
A learning experience
That being said, I have to confess that I never knew much about the history behind Cinco de Mayo until about 15 years ago.
My family acknowledged the holiday, as well as Sept. 16 — the date Mexico gained independence from Spain — but there were always more meaningful things to celebrate.
Weddings, funerals — believe me, Mexican funerals are lively affairs celebrating life more than death — graduations, birthdays, the sunrise and full moons.
Every September, I make a pilgrimage of sorts to Seligman, Ariz. (pop. 347), where I spend three days eating my grandma’s homemade tortillas as they come off the burner; listening to my dad and uncle argue about the greatest invention in history (my dad says the telephone, my uncle says the helicopter); and watching my relatives celebrate the importance of family.
I’m quite certain the stock charts for Budweiser and Jose Cuervo spike during this long weekend, and I realize that holiday celebrations are not necessarily tied to a historic date.
On Cinco de Mayo, I will think of my family, my roots and the courage of those Mexican soldiers who held off the French, if only temporarily.
No amount of commercialism can ruin that.
Now pass me a Dos Equis and a shot of Cuervo — and don’t forget the lime.
Aaron Lopez writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Nuggets for the Rocky Mountain News.
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