Cinco de Mayo

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Mexico seems to have about 100 Independence Days every year, as it celebrates throwing off yokes of oppression from the Spanish, the French, the Mexicans themselves and I’m not sure who all else. I’m going to guess that most of us — or maybe I’m just speaking for myself here — are not that familiar with the history of Mexico. There were Aztecs and Maya and Montezuma (maybe really Moctezuma) and Pancho Villa . . . what more would we really need to know?

For some reason, those of us north of Mexico’s borders don’t feel much need to immerse ourselves in that country’s history — and yet we acknowledge one of their holidays. I don’t know why Cinco de Mayo over any other victory, and I’ll bet that most of us — or maybe I’m still just speaking for myself — don’t really know or care that On This Day in History, the Mexican Army, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, scored an unlikely defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Do we know what the French were doing in Mexico in the first place? No. Do we know if this loss was enough to send the French packing back to Europe? No. Do we know what happened to Mexico after this? No. Do we care that we don’t know? No.

Speaking of knowing, I don’t actually know anyone who “celebrates” Cinco de Mayo, but I’m gathering from the internet that people in the United States use it as an excuse to wear sombreros and drink tequila (as if one needed an excuse), and I know the Latino/hispanic/Mexican/not sure what is appropriate these days/ community in places like Denver like to hop in low-riders and cruise the streets with giant Mexican flags and booming music.

To me, there is a much better celebration of May 5th: it is my niece Ellie’s birthday. And I’ll bet some of you are not ready to hear this tidbit, but today Ellie leaves teenagerdom as she turns 20.

Twenty! Ellie is 20 years old today! How could this have happened?

It does not seem possible that a full two decades ago Tia and Don welcomed their firstborn into the world. I was all prepared back then. Prior to her birth I’d purchased a little Star Trek suit and a stuffed alien, and I was going to call her My Little Marshmellie.

She wore the suit (back when she was unable to make her own clothing selections), and for several years on her birthday, her mother took a photo of her next to the alien to chart growth. “My Little Marshmellie” never really took, though, to my great sadness.

I don’t know that I feel prepared for her to begin her third decade on this planet. That just sounds so grown up.

But she is grown up. She is finishing her sophomore year at the University of Colorado; she has a job (at Sephora, a cosmetic retailer); she has a long-term boyfriend . . . today is just an official acknowledgement of what Already Is.

I don’t know what Ellie anticipates for her future. She hopes to do a semester abroad next year, and there seem to be thoughts of law school, but I don’t know what she plans for herself as she stands on this line between childhood and adulthood. Maybe nothing; I don’t know that I thought I had to look way down a long road when I turned 20.

At her second birthday, Ellie got so many presents that she got worn out opening them, and some had to be set aside for attention at a later time. At a birthday shortly thereafter (third? fourth?), we memorialized the occasion with a photo of her looking totally dejected amid a giant bunch of balloons. I have missed most of the parties since those early years; hopefully the rest of them have gone better for her.

I thought maybe I would have some words of wisdom for Ellie on this day, a day that might seem more momentous to me than her, but I don’t really. As she ages ever closer to leaving childhood behind and finding her own way in this big wide world, I hope the path ahead of her is relatively smooth. Of course, it won’t always be; there are bound to be hiccups along the way.

But her first 20 years have laid a good foundation, and like Zaragoza’s army back in 1862, I hope she has the wherewithall to always stand up for herself, even against what may seem like insurmountable odds. Those are the victories worth celebrating.

Happy birthday, Ellie.

Ellie and her beau, Charley. I don’t think she’s aged at all in 20 years; do you?

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