As holidays go, Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is a mere blip on the radar screen, with the exception of the state of Puebla. There, poblanos reenact the Battle of Puebla every year, as led by Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza. Born in Bahía del Espíritu Santo, Coahuila—better known these days as Goliad, Texas—Zaragoza led forces loyal to Mexican President Benito Júarez. Though outnumbered, he managed to defeat the French in a daylong battle on May 5, 1862. His victory was admittedly short-lived, since not long after French troops marched on Mexico City. In 1863 Napoleon III installed the ill-fated Maximiliano as Emperor of Mexico. (Also admittedly short-lived, since four years later Maximiliano was executed on the order of Juárez.) So much for the history of a holiday too often associated with margaritas north of the border.
It’s primero de mayo—International Labor Day—that has always been more significant, in Mexico as well as in much of the rest of the world. The first May Day, now long forgotten, was a movement of immigrant workers. (Read your history books.) This year the date takes on a heightened significance with plans for a “Day Without Immigrants” walkout and boycott on both sides of the border, as well as elsewhere in Latin America. This issue of the Observer goes to press the week before the May Day events, so it’s still too early for us to weigh in on the boycott—which threatens to split a nascent civil rights movement—and its effect on Congress, where debate on immigration reform legislation is pending. Instead, we’ve devoted much of the current issue to the broader theme and context of immigration.
In “South Texas Hold ‘Em,” Forrest Wilder examines the rise in the immigrant detention business that has received little attention during the ongoing debate. “For the savvy investor looking for a growth industry,” he begins, “South Texas offers a sure thing.”
Observer contributing writer James K. Galbraith, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, writes about the rally in he attended last month in Austin, where the spirit was festive and patriotic. “This isn’t the antiwar movement I grew up in, of white college kids, liberal protestant churches, Dr. Spock, and veterans of the Abraham Lincoln brigades,” he explains. “It’s not the civil rights movement, although the crowds everywhere were a gorgeous mixture of American colors…”
Of a slew of current books, we’ve chosen to review two with very different takes on immigration: Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother, by Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario, and Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting it Right, by Michele Wucker, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. Although not specifically about immigration, the excerpt from Inferno by Charles Bowden that begins on Page 6, with photos by Michael Berman, couldn’t be more timely (as well as timeless). Bowden, of course, is a seasoned border writer; Berman’s photos capture the stark reality of the Arizona desert, where every year migrants perish while trying to cross into the United States.
Also appearing in this issue are Austin filmmaker Heather Courtney (“The Other Side of El Otro Lado”) and Austin attorney Dan Kowalski, who contemplates “The Moral Physics of Immigration.” The last word goes to Erasmo Guerra (“Freedom Ride”), who writes from New York, with his heart still in the Rio Grande Valley.
And finally, in honor of Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza, Goliad’s best-known native son, Happy Cinco de Mayo.