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More to Cinco de Mayo than great food

West Linn couple wants you to know the rest of the story


Lidia and Miguel Salinas are dedicated to documenting the history of Mexican migrant workers in Oregon.

Throughout the United States, grocery stores and restaurants are stocking up on tortilla chips, salsa and cervezas and margarita makings in preparation for Cinco de Mayo.

While Miguel and Lidia Salinas of West Linn are pleased that people will be enjoying Hispanic foods and music while celebrating Cinco de Mayo, they want to make people aware of the larger historical picture.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day; that is celebrated September 16. Cinco de Mayo, which means fifth of May in Spanish, is of special note only in the Mexican state of Puebla, where the holiday is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla).

Though considerably outnumbered and poorly equipped, the Mexican army decisively crushed the French army, considered “the premier army in the world” at this battle held May 5, 1862. The victory helped establish a much needed sense of national pride and patriotism which had been lacking in Mexican nationals since the end of the Mexican-American War.

Honoring the family's ancestors is important in the Mexican culture. The shrine includes photos, candles and artifacts of the loved ones.

“Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? What is it about?” Miguel Salinas asked. “It’s easier to say ‘cinco de Mayo’ than ‘dieciséis de Septiembre.’ You won’t find people living in Mexico celebrating Cinco de Mayo. It’s a holiday created in the United States. If you want the real story you need to know about the Treaty of Guadalupe.”

According to History.com, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed Feb. 2, 1848, ended the Mexican-American War in favor of the United States. The war had begun two years earlier over a territorial dispute involving Texas.

The treaty added an additional 525,000 square miles to the U.S., including the land which makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Mexico also gave up its claims to Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as America’s southern boundary. That wide territory had been inhabited by Latinos, even before the arrival of white settlers.

Miguel Salinas' home and office are filled with Mexican artifacts.

To illustrate this point, the Salinas share their experience of visiting the Family Search Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We were asked by the center’s photographer if she could take a picture of my wife Lidia and me,” Salinas said. “Good memento to take home! As any other photographer, the lady behind the camera asked us to pose and said the famous words: ‘Are you ready? Smile!’ and then she asked us ‘Where were your parents from and in what boat did they arrive?’ A silence followed. My wife and I were frozen in time and space and couldn’t find the words to respond. And suddenly as if someone was controlling our faces and mouths we looked at each other and then turned to the camera and then replied ‘We were already here!”

Salinas said that confirmed his identity; he knew his ancestors and those of his wife, were residents of North America long before the arrival of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. While white explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark are recognized for their many discoveries and exploration, Mexicans “get no respect, like Rodney Dangerfield.”

The Salinases take heritage seriously. For decades, they have worked to raise awareness of the impact the Mexican culture has on the vibrancy of American life.

One of Miguel’s most prized possessions is a photograph of himself with Mexican American César Chávez, an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist, taken when Chávez was visiting Marylhurst University.

STAFF PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Miguel Salinas holds a prized possession: A picture taken of him with César Chávez during Chávezs visit to Marylhurst University.

The couple have founded TexMexorUSA.org, a website dedicated to collecting and recording the oral histories of Mexican migrant workers in Oregon. As a former teacher, historian and author Miguel Salinas has captured the stories of pioneer families, their immigration history, culture, spirit and more.

The couple intend the website to promote Mexican culture and raise awareness of their longevity in the U.S.

“We are celebrating our Mexican roots, celebrating our people and our ancestors,” Salinas said. “We want people to appreciate the rich heritage of Mexicans. Go ahead and celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Just know there is something more to the story.”

To learn more, visit texmexorusa.org.

Contact Barb Randall at 503-636-1281 or email brandall@lakeoswegoreview.com.

Salinas has a state-of-the-art recording studio in his basement to support TexMexorUSA.org.

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