Joe Barrera: The Real Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

Once upon a time there was an emperor who wanted to make his country great again. He thought, “if we conquer more lands we will become even more feared and respected. If we send the army on an extended deployment we will find the military glory we have always wanted.” Thinking like this, the emperor knew that he had to find a country that would be ripe for the taking. Trouble was, all the neighboring empires were too strong to attack. The emperor didn’t like it, but he was compelled to look far away for a weak country to conquer. Try as he might he could not find one. Then he had a stroke of luck, or so he thought. It turned out that there were some wealthy people who had been driven out of their own country by a revolution and were now living in the capital city. They decided that they had the answer to the emperor’s problem.

The exiles went to see the emperor, who at first received them with some skepticism, but then became quickly interested in the scheme they proposed. “The man who is now president in our country,” they said, “is very unpopular and could be easily overthrown by the army of Your Imperial Highness. Not only is he unpopular, he is also a radical socialist who has confiscated our estates and left us destitute. He deludes the masses by pretending to liberate them from the tyranny of the rich.” The emperor heard this and felt a twinge of conscience. He knew that many of his own subjects were chafing under the oppressive social order he was enforcing. But not to worry. He felt very secure in his power. The oily exiles continued with their blandishments. “Your Highness could appoint your nephew, the Archduke Maximilian, to be the king of our country. He is a man who is ready to serve you and is just looking for an endeavor worthy of your greatness. The people will welcome him with open arms. They will throw flowers at your soldiers when they invade our country. The people will embrace your enlightened rule and all the benefits it will bring.”

The emperor believed them. He sent his army with the Archduke at its head across the sea. But the promises of the exiles were a pack of lies. The president was not unpopular. The people did not welcome the foreign soldiers with bouquets of flowers. They resisted the invaders and mounted an insurgency that lasted for years. The president led the guerrilla war and was never caught in spite of many defeats by the superior forces of the empire. Finally, the emperor gave up. He recalled his army and as soon as the soldiers left the Archduke was shot by the insurgents. The emperor who had dreamed of glory was himself soon deposed when another stronger empire invaded his country.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? With a few minor changes this could be the story of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this sense it is a cautionary tale for the United States. But this is the story of Mexico and France, and el Cinco de Mayo. Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the first Napoleon, had delusions of grandeur. These were shattered at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, when a rag-tag Mexican army defeated the vaunted French. The battle started a war that lasted until the French were driven out Mexico. This flagrant European colonialism–the attempt to make brown-skinned people subject to white-skinned people–has become a lesson that teaches freedom. But we don’t know this. Instead, we have American el Cinco de Mayo, time for parties, time for Latinos and Anglos to get gloriously drunk and make the beer companies rich. If only we knew its original significance. The real meaning of this holiday is that we need to “decolonize” our minds. To “decolonize” means that we throw off the mental shackles of inferiority. For U.S. Chicanos, inferiority is always a problem. This is because we are always fighting inferiority, something that is more real internally than it is real externally. Mexican Americans can look at Black Lives Matter and at the Me Too Movement for inspiration. These are examples of human beings reclaiming their own inherent self-worth.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera: Veterans’ Day is about Creating Community

In 370BC a Greek Army ventured into Mesopotamia, lured into supporting a claimant to the throne by the promise of money and booty. How the Greeks managed to extricate themselves from a hopeless situation in what is now Iraq and Syria is the subject of the famous account, The Anabasis of Xenophon. “Anabasis” means “a journey out of.” The story is that Cyrus, the pretender to the throne of the Persian empire, is killed by his rival and the Greeks find that they have backed the wrong faction. This, of course, sounds familiar. We are now in the same position as Xenophon, the wise and courageous soldier who leads the Greeks out of the trap. But unlike Xenophon we have no exit strategy to free ourselves from the Iraqi and Syrian quagmire.

Halicarnassus (Anabasis)
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No doubt about it. We are stuck in Mesopotamia, not to mention Afghanistan. In my opinion it happened because we misunderstood the desires of those countries to create communities according to their own rules. The same for our tragic misadventure in Vietnam. The task for us now is to extricate ourselves by rediscovering our own rules for community. I don’t want to make too much of the analogy but the lesson is clear. Xenophon’s Ten-Thousand fought and won their battles and survived the long journey out of the desert by the unity forged in comradeship. They were a small army, but they acted more like a community, a nation on the march through hostile territory.

Community is essential. This is true in both the military and civilian spheres. Armies imbued with comradeship, the military equivalent of community, win battles against much stronger foes. Civil societies succeed, but only if they are true communities. During this season, when we honor veterans and the society they have protected, it’s good to reflect on this. Philosophers have described community in many ways. It’s useful to read what they say, especially those who write about human communities from the experience of war. J. Glenn Gray, the eminent Colorado College philosopher, in his book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle says this about the communal spirit, what he calls “love as concern:”

The characteristic mood that accompanies love as concern is neither deep joy nor unrestrained grief, so often typical of erotic love. Concerned love knows relief and it knows anxiety in its depths, but seldom does it put everything at stake on the preservation of this or that life or treasure. Its care is for the whole and not the part.

The essence of community is a love concerned with the whole. Concerned love leads to the building of community after the destruction of war. Fortunately for human beings, most soldiers are not made into habitual killers by war, even if they are soldiers who have killed. They are capable of living civilian lives after war. Gray, the WWII veteran, is correct about this, even if many veterans doubt it. Other writers have sought to define community. Sebastian Junger, who was an embedded journalist with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan and made a documentary about the experience entitled “Restrepo,” defines “concerned love” in a different way, the way of male bonding. In

his book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Junger discusses a type of love among soldiers. The men form the ultimate in male bonding, a brotherhood which only men in battle can form. Hardship, such as war, enables soldiers to transcend selfishness. Junger knows from first-hand experience that the bane of modern armies, PTSD, would not exist if soldiers preserved that brotherhood when they return to the civilian world. Unfortunately, combat veterans lose this protection all too quickly. This Veterans’ Day, we should provide veterans the chance to re-enact the communal love of their small units, which existed in our society before we lost our tribal identity.

A good example of communal love is The Warrior Storyfield in Longmont. A group of veterans and artists formed a “tribe,” a sculpture project that gives the unspoken experience of war a voice through the creation of huge iron statues of a dragon, representing homo furens, the ferocious warrior, and the phoenix, representing the resurrection of human love in the soldier when he comes home. Closer to home we have the Veterans Community Dialogues, to be held on November 7.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D, is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

 

COLORADO MILITARY VETERANS’ COMMUNITY  DIALOGUES (NOV 7)

 

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Date: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2017
Time: 10AM-4PM
Event: Healing Through Story-Telling: We talk of experiences in the war zones and about experiences coming home. (You can stay for as long or as short a time as you want. We provide lunch.)

THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT
1 SOUTH NEVADA
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO 80903

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Veterans talk to other Veterans. Spouses, Families, Friends Join the Dialogue. Supportive Community Members Extend Welcome and Acceptance. We are looking for veterans and active-duty soldiers, their families and friends, and community people who want to help veterans in their re-adjustment.

Contact: Joe Barrera, combat veteran, Vietnam War:  jjbarr46@gmail.com