It was in a low-slung casino off the Strip—the name escapes me now, but the place was blown up and demolished, Vegas-style, not long afterwards, and rightly so. Row upon row of marshmallow-shaped Anglos with brillo hair sat smoking and pulling the slot machine levers as faint country music piped from the ceiling. The whole scene was about as Mexican as Branson, Missouri. And yet, there at the bar, next to a prop sombrero and above a line of plastic margarita cups, was the sign: Drinko de Mayo.
Americans and Mexicans: it’s complicated. In recent deliberations, the Supreme Court seemed to look favorably on Arizona’s right to check the papers of anyone cops suspect of a crime. As a strange form of celebration, J. T. Ready, a high-profile border hawk often linked to the former president of the Arizona Senate, went into the home of his ex-girlfriend—a woman with a child from a previous relationship who was half-Mexican and therefore, as he put it, “50% ugly”—and killed the woman, and killed a couple other people, and killed the half-Mexican toddler, and then killed himself.
Ready’s campaign website—he was running for Sherriff as a Democrat, as a form of provocation—was updated just after the slaughter. That means there was some poor political operative who had the job of logging in with trembling hand and posting something to the effect that it seemed Ready and his family had been murdered by a Mexican cartel deathsquad. Utter bullshit, of course, but weirdly loyal: it was exactly what poor, deceased, murderous Ready would have wanted.
A quick Cinco de Mayo primer: The date was May 5, 1862. It’s not Independence Day: it celebrates a victory against the invading French (a short-lived victory, as it turns out—the French recovered from their loss, sacked Mexico City and installed their own emperor). It’s a much bigger deal to people from the state of Puebla, where the battle happened, than the rest of Mexico. But it’s possibly even a bigger deal to Mexicans in the States, who have used the date as a common celebration for the diaspora. In part because Corona and a bunch of Anglo beer brands spend a bajillion dollars a year in marketing telling the US, in English and in Spanish, that Cinco de Mayo is a very important day.
Which brings us to Drinko de Mayo.
I used to spend energy disliking this vision of Mexico as just one big saloon for Americans. Not only did I marry into a Mexican family (much like J. T. Ready?), but I even married into a family that came, long ago, from Tijuana, the epicenter of visiting Anglo libido and insobriety. It wasn’t just the maligned reputation of Tijuana, it was the flood of tropes—those incessant images of a sombrero’d Mexican with a bottle of Tequila asleep beneath a cactus, for example—that rankled anyone who knew Mexico better.
And then, the trope switched from drunk Mexican to slaughtered Mexican. And now I miss Drinko de Mayo. So does Mexico. Mexico’s Tourism Department trumpeted a 7.2% increase in springbreakers—including the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, they pointed out—from 2011 to 2012, to show that the obnoxious-visitor-industry was perhaps on the rebound.
But I have my doubts. In Juarez last year—I was there as a journalist looking for, and finding, slaughtered Mexicans—I paid a quick, uncomfortable visit to the Kentucky Club, which had for decades been the stylish place for El Pasoans (and others) to get drunk on the cheap.The place was essentially empty, save for two wildeyed Americans and a couple older men who didn’t want to talk at all. The neighborhood was in ruins. The drunk Americans were gone.
This is the fault of the Mexicans who insist on killing each other in new and inventive ways. But it is also the fault of the histrionics of places like Texas, which has been in a froth, warning its citizens to stay away from Mexico ever since the violence started. In the El Paso airport en route to Juarez, I came across a sign at the information desk saying, in essence, don’t cross the border into Juarez. It’s dangerous there. You can find tacos in El Paso. “Our visitor information specialists will be able to recommend alternative sites here in the United States where you can enjoy the flavors and culture of Mexico,” the sign said.
This is a shame, because Texas knows full well that el Chapo Guzman is not hunting springbreaking co-eds, that the war is largely fratricidal and has almost completely avoided Anglos. It’s a shame because Texas has gladly accepted the housing and banking boom that has come from honest (and some dishonest) Mexicans moving their assets into Texas, just as it accepts the legions of moneyed shoppers from Sonora who cross the border to visit the malls in McAllen and elsewhere every weekend.
It’s a shame in the way the rest of our border policy is a shame because actually, America and Mexico are joined at the hip and the head, by geography that only severe plate tectonics could tear asunder. It’s a marriage, I guess, an old one that goes back to that first Cinco de Mayo and before. Like any marriage, yes, it gets complicated, but it’s exactly at those moments that you need to re-engage. I’m not calling for candlelit dinners and riding horses on the beach. No, not romance, but even a dysfunctional couple could do better than just disengaging. We could, at the very least, find some common vice, some old weathered codependency that was part of what drew us together to begin with.
And there you have it: we are both alcoholics. Let’s start there. Let’s get back to drinking together, fighting, crying, throwing things, and then staggering off to the bedroom to have impotent drunksex.
So tomorrow, find a Mexican. They might be drinking. Drink with them. Bring a gigantic, offensive sombrero. Forget their names and call them all Juan. Eat their food and get ill. Piss on their lawn, throw up in their homes (don’t worry, they put plastic covers on their good furniture). They might not show it right away, but they’ll be grateful. We’ll all be glad that it’s finally Drinko de Mayo again.