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FIESTAS PATRIAS AND CINCO DE MAYO

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
Painting, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla by Antonio Fabres. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

FIESTAS PATRIAS AND CINCO DE MAYO. The term fiestas patrias, or “patriotic feasts,” refers to five of the seven national holidays of Mexico that celebrate its nationhood, including Anniversary of the Constitution of 1917 on February 5, Benito Juárez’s Birthday on March 21, Labor Day on May 1, Independence Day on September 16, and Anniversary of the Revolution of 1910 on November 20 (the other two major holidays are New Year’s Day and Christmas Day). In Texas and throughout the Southwest, Mexican Americans annually celebrate one of the fiestas patrias, Diez y Seis de Septiembre (September 16), which commemorates Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's Grito de Dolores ("cry of Dolores") in the early morning hours of September 16, 1810, at the village of Dolores, near Guanajuato, which is why in Mexico the holiday traditionally starts late in the evening on September 15. Hidalgo called for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, which commemorates the Mexican Republican victory over a French army at the battle of Puebla in 1862, is a national holiday in Mexico, although not a required no-work day. Consequently, some people consider it among the fiestas patrias, although it is mostly celebrated in Mexico only in and around the Puebla region. Diez y Seis de Septiembre has been celebrated in San Antonio for more than 167 years and in Goliad for 160 years. On September 16, 1825, the Republic of Mexico officially declared Diez y Seis de Septiembre its national Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in Texas since the late nineteenth century and has become an increasingly popular holiday in the United States in recent years.

Houston Fiestas Patrias Parade
Photograph, Houston Fiestas Patrias International Parade, 2014. Image courtesy of Thomas B. Shea Photography for the Houston Chronicle.  Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

At the time of the Texas Revolution of 1836, which ended the Mexican period in Texas history, Mexican-descent peoples in Texas possessed a unique cultural heritage, enriched by a combination of Spanish and Indian customs. This biculturation enabled Mexican Texans, or Tejanos, to adapt and join the mainstream Anglo-American culture while maintaining in group relationships and family structures their valued ethnic traditions. Tejanos began celebrating fiestas patrias to reinforce their cultural links with each other and with Mexico. The first fiestas patrias were held in Texas in the early 1820s. They included festivities that involved special music, songs, dances, native cuisine, costumes, and homage to folk heroes. In these celebrations Tejanos displayed and preserved their ethnicity. Diez y Seis celebrations persisted in Texas from 1825 through the period of the republic and into the post-Civil War years, long after Texas’s separation from Mexico. Many eventually were held at county fair grounds and drew large crowds.

Fiestas Patrias Children Float
Photograph, children on a Fiestas Patrias float during a parade, 1982. Image courtesy of The Portal to Texas History. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

At the turn of the twentieth century, San Antonio held elaborate three-day fiestas patrias on September 15 through 17 that typified events elsewhere in Texas. A committee called the Junta Patriótica (Patriotic Board), aided by local benevolent societies, planned the program and chose a site in or near a Mexican barrio for the event. Additional committees decorated booths and bandstands with bunting, flags, and flowers. A grand marshal and aides were appointed to lead a parade. On September 15 marchers bearing the colors of the United States and Mexico, accompanied by military bands, headed the procession. Next came the carriages with city and county officials and dignitaries from Mexico and the United States. A line of decorated floats with costumed characters representing prominent figures in Mexican history followed. Then came local societies, which included, for example, the Mutualista Benevolencia, Sociedad Unión, Sociedad Benito Juárez, Sociedad Hidalgo, Sociedad Zaragoza, Círculo de Obreros, and other groups (see SOCIEDADES MUTUALISTAS). At the rear were carriages carrying people of prominence, the fiestas patrias committee, invited associations, and individuals. The procession followed a designated route to the fairgrounds or some other location. The crowd surged by decorated booths to a speakers' stage, and at exactly 11 P.M. the traditional Grito de Dolores was made. The Mexican Declaration of Independence was read, and cries of "Viva la independencia!" filled the air. A United States artillery battery fired a twenty-one-gun salute. The program often included singing the Mexican national hymn, the coronation of lovely señoritas, orations, eulogies, and the singing of such patriotic songs as "El Cinco de Mayo." As the ceremonies concluded, the crowd participated in social games, watched historic plays, flooded food and drink concessions, and danced. On the evening of September 17 the fiestas patrias officially closed with fireworks.

Cinco de Mayo began to be celebrated in the United States soon after news arrived of the Mexican victory at the battle of Puebla over a French expeditionary army on May 5, 1862. Disgruntled, exiled Mexican conservatives had invited Napoleon III of France to send the Hapsburg Maximilian and his wife, Carlota, to rule Mexico, in opposition to the reform movement led by Benito Juárez. At the battle of Puebla, Mexican forces led by the Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza accomplished an initial victory over a professional French army. Although it took five years of civil war before the French were driven out, Mexican monarchical forces were finally defeated, Maximilian was executed, and the Mexican Republic fully restored. Mexican Americans in California appear to have first celebrated the event in 1862, after news reached the Southwest, and other celebrations soon followed. The growing body of Mexican immigrants to Texas and the western United States in the early decades of the twentieth century reinforced the holiday in the region. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo thus celebrated the cultural ties that the raza (the "race" or "clan," i.e., Mexican Americans) shared with each other and with Mexico. Sporting costumes and banners, the people gathered to hear speeches, sing patriotic songs, and eat and dance. Sponsoring societies might include Sociedad Benevolencia Mexicana, Sociedad de la Unión, Sociedad Benito Juárez de Señoras y Señoritas, Sociedad Morelos, and others.

San Angelo Celebration
Photograph, the Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebration at San Angelo, Texas, on September 15, 1986. Image courtesy of the Standard-Times of San Angelo. A Mexican flag is waved along with the ringing of the bell during the Fiestas Patrias to signify El Grito de Dolores.  Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

San Angelo has a long tradition of Diez y Seis and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. In 1910 the raza held a grand centennial parade of 300 people, with floats and buggies, and a two-day festival at the Lake Concho Pavilion. People from miles around came to see the paintings of Mexican heroes and listen to a Mexican string band. By the 1920s the festivities in San Angelo followed a regular pattern. Every year the Mexican government called upon a Comisión Honorífica Mexicana to convene the Mexican-American people, who appointed a Comité Patriótico Mexicano to organize the celebrations that year. They chose a location convenient to the barrio and large enough to accommodate the affair. Early celebrations were held on the north side of San Angelo, near the Mexican-American neighborhood, but in the late 1920s the population shifted to a barrio on the south side. The program expanded to include more sporting events, such as baseball games, and school band concerts, oratory, and children's recitations. Radios, loudspeakers, public-address systems, and automobiles often complicated the event. Locations changed during the Great Depression. In 1946 Estanislado Sedeno, an active celebrant since 1932 and a member of the Comisión Honorífica and the Comité Patriótico Mexicano, was named Comisión president. He opened the 1946 celebration in his front yard at 113 W. Avenue N, and Sedeno Plaza was subsequently the site of the fiestas patrias events in San Angelo for twenty-seven years. On September 5, 1972, Estanislado Sedeno returned to Sedeno Plaza, and Mayor C. S. "Chic" Conrad proclaimed the date “Estanislado Sedeno Day.”

Other Texas cities developed a Diez y Seis-Cinco de Mayo tradition. In Houston the celebrations began in the 1920s, when the Hispanic population grew large enough to require a Mexican consulate. The earliest celebrations included historic dramas at Teatro Azteca, Houston's first Hispanic theater, founded in 1927. The dramas included Maximiliano, a nineteenth-century play depicting Mexico's armed resistance to French imperialism. Later, such civic-minded groups as the Hispanic Club Familias Unidas, established in 1947, sponsored dances. The popular Baile Ranchero began in 1950, with participants wearing costumes representing different regions of Mexico and performing native dances. From the mid-twenties, fiestas patrias were held at the City Auditorium, following a parade through the downtown business district. The Mexican consul or his official representative frequently opened the Diez y Seis celebration on the night of September 15 by delivering the Grito de Dolores. During the late 1960s, Juan Coronado was instrumental in making the annual parade down Houston's Main Street on September 16 a permanent event. In 1969 Judge Armando V. Rodriguez brought together a group of community leaders to support the event. The success of the "16th" festivities was ensured in 1971, when the Houston Fiestas Patrias organization, led by Rita and Armando Rodriguez, A. John Castillo, Johnny Mata, and Rita Villanueva, obtained a state charter. A Distinguished Mexican American of the Year award was started in 1969, with Judge Rodriguez as the first recipient; by 2002 the much-coveted honor had been renamed the Distinguished Hispanic of the Year award. By 2004 the Houston Fiestas Patrias had evolved into a series of events held throughout the month of September, including pageants for young Hispanic ladies aged five through twenty-four.

Capitol Celebration
Photograph, Austin High School students dance on the floor of the Texas State Capitol to celebrate the Diez y Seis de Septiembre, 2014. Image courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107

Although primarily held to maintain Mexican-American cultural life and customs, the Diez y Seis and Cinco de Mayo fiestas occasionally rendered a political service. In 1973 Mexican-American leaders clashed with the Mexican consul in declaring that the true function of their fiestas was to promote their own unique Mexican-American heritage and lifestyle, and not that of Mexico. In 1977 and 1978 the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Houston evolved into political protests against police brutality and discrimination against the Hispanic population. Diez y Seis and Cinco de Mayo, like Juneteenth, are traditional celebrations rooted in historic events and devoted to preserving the multiethnic life of Texas. Cinco de Mayo, in particular, has recently been embraced more generally in the same way as other ethnic celebrations such St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Octoberfest have found acceptance in American cultural life.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Charles A. Arnold, Folklore, Manners and Customs of the Mexicans in San Antonio, Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1928). Arnoldo De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican-Americans in Houston (University of Houston Mexican American Studies Program, 1989). Arnoldo De León, Las Fiestas Patrias: Biographic Notes on the Hispanic Presence in San Angelo, Texas (San Antonio: Caravel Press, 1978). Arnoldo De León, The Tejano Community, 1836–1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982). David E. Hayes-Bautista, Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Thomas H. Kreneck, Del Pueblo: A Pictorial History of Houston's Hispanic Community (Houston: Houston International University, 1989).

Rebeca Anne Todd Koenig, rev. by. Jesús F. de la Teja

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Handbook of Texas Online, Rebeca Anne Todd Koenig, rev. by. Jesús F. de la Teja, "Fiestas Patrias and Cinco De Mayo," accessed July 26, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lkf06.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on July 7, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.