Cinco de Mayo — today — is a Mexican holiday that commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which occurred May 5, 1862, and which marked indigenous forces’ defeat of the French army then occupying Mexico. The battle definitively established Mexican national sovereignty. It is apparently actually a more popular holiday in the United States, among Mexican-Americans, than it is in Mexico, where it is overshadowed by Independence Day, September 16.
The manufacturers of alcoholic beverages in the US seem to have a definite agenda for the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, to judge by the promotional material that graces Mexican restaurants at this time of year. A different way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo might be to read up on the Zapatista movement — a contemporary (yes!) revolutionary liberation movement among indigenous people in Chiapas province, Mexico. Since its beginnings in 1994, with the adoption of NAFTA, the Zapatistas have struggled to maintain independent local communities in the face of mounting opposition from the Mexican national government. Women are actively involved in the movement, and have held 3 international gatherings, most recently at the end of 2007.
A good place to begin in this regard might be the Zapatista Women * Mujeres Zapatista site that is part of the ZAPNET project of the University of Texas. It contains some substantial documents that pertain to the early years of the movement, including a couple of papers by Diane Goetze on the historical significance of the Zapatista Women.
The best source for up-to-date information about the Zapatistas seems to be the online site of the Chiapas Support Committee, an Oakland, California-based group dedicated to organizing support for and distributing information about the Zapatistas. [Also, the source for the gorgeous image at the top of this post.]
Other recent reportage includes a January 7, 2008 article by Naomi Klein in the Nation, a lengthy report of her attendance at the 3rd Zapatista Women’s Gathering, entitled “Revolution of the Snails”, by Rebecca Solnit, in the Common Dreams online newsletter, and
an April news clip from Kristen Bricker of the Narcosphere.
[A word of warning for those who’ll want to surf for more info: a lot of Zapatista sites seem to have been abandoned since the late 90’s, so there are a lot of broken links, and perhaps worse, automatic links to who-knows-where.]