ELLENVILLE – The sun was warm and welcome on the 5th of May, and in Ellenville Cinco de Mayo was celebrated in a big way. At the library a horde of kids were making piñatas and chasing each other with balloons in their hands. A mariachi band came to play. Then the youngsters formed up for a short parade down Canal Street to the big block party being held outside Gaby’s Mexican restaurant. The bouncy house was very popular, as were margaritas for the adults — and the joyous throngs could be heard near and far!
Prominent in the parade was Genaro Garcia, the restaurateur who, with his wife Maria, has overseen the growth of Gaby’s Cafe from the small, cheerful upstart on Canal Street, to the major restaurant it has become with fans all over the region. Genaro has been instrumental in promoting Cinco de Mayo in the village, helping to grow the celebration and parade.
Cinco de Mayo is not the biggest holiday back in Mexico; that remains September 16, Independence Day. While Cinco de Mayo is celebrated, it is a minor festival, honoring the Mexican army’s surprising victory over an invading French army at Puebla in 1862.
Despite the defeat at Puebla, the French persisted and soon occupied most of Mexico and installed an Austrian Prince as Emperor: Maximilian. However, following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the US began to demand an end to the French adventure. In 1866 the French withdrew, and though Maximilian had the support of wealthy conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church, his rule disintegrated, he was captured by the Mexican Republican army and executed in May 1867. Today, Cinco de Mayo is marked with military reenactments of the fighting and a military parade.
In the US, Cinco de Mayo has become an occasion to celebrate Mexican food and culture. Beginning in the 1950s, young Mexican Americans began to elevate Cinco de Mayo into their national holiday, on a par with St. Patrick’s Day and other immigrant holidays. The practice caught on, and today it has become another of our signature celebrations of the diversity that makes this country great.