Cinco De Mayo

Posted: May 8, 2007 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness

This past Saturday was the 5th of May – or as it’s called in Mexico: "Cinco De Mayo."

Cinco De Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico and is a time of celebration.

People of Mexican descent throughout the United States celebrate the day with festivals, parades, family picnics and gatherings, etcetera. While it is not the official Mexican Independence Day – which is September 16th – it is nonetheless an important date in Mexico’s history.  

On May 5th, 1862 the Mexican Army defeated the French Army in what is called the "Battle of Puebla." The battle itself was part of a campaign to install a European monarch as emperor over Mexico and place the country beneath the rule of Napoleon III. Although the victory was temporary since the French re-invaded Mexico years later, the Battle of Puebla became a symbol of Mexican patriotism and desire to be free from oppression and domination of foreign governments.

That seems to be the desire of every person: to live life in peace and freedom without fear of oppression or repression. I believe that that desire comes from something innate within the human spirit that strives to rise above one’s current situation – a drive that, it seems to me, we are all born with.

During the 2000 Presidential Election Campaign, the one word that was ubiquitously used was: "disenfranchised."

It seemed like every time I turned on the news broadcasts some joker was throwing out the word as though it was some Holy Grail. All the commentators, activists, pundits and even politicians (no kidding!) were griping at the top of their voices how this group or that group was being disenfranchised. I heard the word so often I became disgusted with anyone who used it. I kept hoping that whoever had started the trend would fall into a cosmic black hole.

But now – seven years later – I can see actually see an application for the word.

The dictionary defines disenfranchised as:

"…Being deprived of the rights of citizenship, especially the right to vote."

Although the word is "technically" used in the context of voting rights, I can see where a person could be "deprived of the rights of citizenship" in many other ways.

For example: a person could be treated as though they are not entitled to be seen as a part of the community based on their social or economic status – such as being homeless. Or, they could be denied the right to be in certain parts of the community, or the community itself may seek ways of "get rid of" the person or persons because they are "undesirables."

Having experienced homeless from the "inside" I can tell you that if anyone in this country is disenfranchised it is unquestionably the homeless.

As a class of people, the homeless are targets for more forms of discrimination than any other group of people throughout the county. They are constant targets for various types of biased legislation from local governments, harassment from law enforcement and, singling out from the community at large. They are also the ones who are less likely to receive the necessary aid to surmount their impoverished situation.

Even when a homeless person makes an extended effort to find help at getting out of their situation, the groups and organizations that are meant for aiding the homeless seldom do anything more than refer the person somewhere else. Consequently, many homeless lose faith in the possibility of one day becoming free from the chains of homelessness.

The truth is that among those homeless who do manage to escape homelessness, it is few and far between who do so with the help of government or independent agencies that are designed to help the homeless. Usually, the person who rises out of homelessness does so by luck or with the help of a certain person or group of private citizens.

Unfortunately, there are not many people who will just reach out and help a person who is homeless. This is because many people who look at the homeless see them through jaded eyes. Also, most people simply do not have the financial wherewithal to give aid to everyone in need. Those who do give, do so in a limited or structured manner.

Many people who have a desire to help the homeless do not know how best to help. They think that if they give their donations to homeless support services organizations, homeless shelters, day centers for the homeless and other such agencies that the homeless are being taken care of. However most people do not take the time to check and see exactly how their donations are being used and how much of it actually creates a potential for the homeless to help themselves get out of being homeless. As a result, even though the private citizen gives – believing that they are making a difference – very few of the homeless are actually being helped.

And in the end – the homeless are still being oppressed, occupied and being disenfranchised.

Maybe one day the homeless in this country will have a type of "Cinco De Mayo" of their own.

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Comments
  1. tbearly says:

    Michael,

    I am enjoying getting through your site, bit by bit, article by article. Thus far, it has been quite the journey. I indeed feel fortunate that you have chosen to share yourself with the rest of us.

    And I know that, while this does not necessarily, or entirely, relate to the thoughts behind your own take on ‘Cinco de Mayo’ – yours certainly have more universal and poignant relevance than do mine – I just wanted to comment on it because I have my own special connection to this celebrated (or recognized) day of Independence, and will forever. It just struck a chord.

    The Fifth of May 2005 is the day I flew back with my son from Boston, where I had lived for about four years, returning home to Seattle, following a rather brutal four months. They were the months following my (then) husband’s announcement/intention to divorce, and subsequent… not entirely wonderful behavior. His behavior had been “not entirely wonderful” for quite a while – women the world over have that story to tell, many much, much worse than mine – and it is sadly, an old story. But we had to remain living together throughout those four months (long story, and it’s over and done with now), so by the time early May had rolled around I was approaching what I felt, at the time, was a near-total emotional collapse. But I didn’t collapse. I couldn’t – I had a son to raise and a new life to discover and truly begin.

    Anyway, I will forever feel an affinity for May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, for it was, in virtually every way, my own personal Independence Day. A day of freedom, renewed hope, and the smallest of glimmers beginning from what *at first* appeared to be a deep, dark and scary hole. There were more dark days ahead that I couldn’t have known about, but still, that day was Day One of freedom from what had been, for me, years of darkness. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted so good a day.

    My wish for you, for both of us, is that the upcoming Cinco de Mayo, 2008, will find us both in ever-increasing light.

    -Tracy

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