Professor Shares Cinco de Mayo History

Mexican American Studies Professor Greg Pantoja wants the community to understand the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo.

What comes to mind when you hear “Cinco de Mayo?”

If you’re not acquainted with the celebration, you might know that it’s some kind of Mexican holiday and it means May Fifth in Spanish. But for Latinos at Southwestern College and Mexican Americans throughout the United States, Cinco de Mayo is much more than an excuse to have a beer.

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the battle of Puebla, when in 1862 Mexican forces led by General Zaragoza defeated the invading French Empire, said Mexican American Studies Professor Greg Pantoja. The battle took place at the same time as the American struggle to end slavery in the Civil War. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo also serves as a celebration of Mexican culture.

In the days ahead of Cinco de Mayo, Professor Pantoja helped organized an event dedicated to informing Southwestern College and the surrounding community about the celebration.

“I became empowered through the education of my history, and I realized I had a bigger part to play,” Pantoja said. “I want to educate the community on the origins of Cinco de Mayo.”

In addition to education, Professor Pantoja is intent on fostering the relationship between Southwestern college and the surrounding community.

“We have a civic responsibility to the South Bay,” he said. “We need to raise the profile of what we’re doing for our students, who are predominantly Latino, and what we’re doing for our local community.”

The second annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration took place Thursday. The free event featured entertainment, dinner and the historical presentation by Pantoja. The event was organized by the Mexican American Studies department, the Mexican American Studies Scholars and the Office of Student Equity Programs and Services.