Friday, May 4, 2012

Cinco de Mayo

There occurs, occasionally, in history instances in which events come to be misinterpreted, misconstrued, misunderstood. In other words, not exactly correct.
The so-called “holiday” of Cinco de Mayo is a case in point. Many probably believe that this date is widely celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. Not so. Firstly it is not Mexican Independence Day (that is in September) and secondly it is not widely celebrated in Mexico, rather it is an excuse for those in the US, especially in the southwest to drink Corona and eat empanadas.

Following independence from Spanish rule, Mexico entered a period of conflict for political power and foreign interventions. Heavy debt to several European countries, which Mexico could not repay, gave France an opportunity to expand their sphere of influence and sought to place Archduke Maximilian of Austria on the throne of Mexico City as emperor. As the French marched along to Mexico City they encountered resistance from a small militia of rebels who defeated the larger French army and temporarily stopped the takeover. This occurred in the state of Puebla and it is here that Cinco de Mayo is indeed celebrated today. Incidentally, the French returned and Max ruled Mexico for 3 years until he was “dispatched”, so to speak. So, it is the Battle of Puebla and the brave men under General Zaragoza that is honored on May 5.

All this notwithstanding, those who wish to start the summer patio scene early flock to their supermarkets, who have devoted valuable floor space to displays of Mexican beers (which are really, really good), tortilla chips, bright napkins and plastic Margarita glasses, to stock up on the essentials.

So now I come to a “misinterpretation” in the textile world.  Western textile designers from the second quarter of the 20th C. began to produce, what textile historians refer to, as “Ethnic”patterns.  These were simplified, stereotypes of what the western world considered folkloric characteristics of other countries.  For example, a Bavarian gentleman in leather shorts and knee socks holding a large beer stein served by a blond, buxom girl in a long skirt and a low-cut blouse.  Or a group of young children wearing wooden shoes frolicking in a field of tulips with windmills in the background.  You get the drift.  These were never meant to be derogatory, although certainly not politically correct. They were merely misrepresentations of the cultures which were considered exotic or interesting, but came to be motifs or symbols of these peoples.  And thousands of yards of such fabrics were made into tablecloths, curtains and pillows and sold, along with ceramic ashtrays and figurines of the same ilk. 

Perhaps there is no better example of such designs as Mexican and south-of-the-border textiles.  Smiling senoritas with baskets of fruit carried on their heads, donkeys with carts, cacti, adobe walls and men in large sombreros sleeping during siestas. Now I must confess.  I find these very charming, with no disrespect to my neighbors to the south and I have been collecting them for many years.  After all, I need them for my Cinco de Mayo buffet.

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