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The Border Report

The Cinco de Mayo myth

By Derrik Chinn

The Border Report

Mexico’s independence day celebration

“El Grito de Independencia,” or “The Cry of Independence,” is the rallying cry on this night.

Politics and pledges of allegiance aside, there’s something wonderfully, guiltlessly noncommittal about partaking in the independence festivities of a nation other than your own. No matter the country, it usually involves a lot of food, booze, and pyrotechnics. Americans are famous for thinking Mexico won its independence on Cinco de Mayo, which actually marks the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Mexico’s true independence day happened on September 16, 1810. It all started the night before, when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rallied the townsfolk of Dolores, Guanajuato, to revolt against the Spanish monarchy.

These days the traditional main event on the night of September 15 in every Mexican pueblo, no matter the size, is the mayor’s reenactment of Hidalgo’s speech (grito), a must-see for any gabacho (foreigner) who’s a grito virgen.

Tijuana’s version usually happens less than a mile from the San Ysidro border crossing, outside the municipal palace, amid a street fair that stretches over to Paseo de los Heroes below the Monument of Independence (known as “las tijeras” for its resemblance to a pair of scissor blades). Grab a beer and a huarache—carne asada and queso fresco piled atop a thick slab of fried corn masa that’s shaped like a sandal (hence the name), arguably the most iconic staple of celebratory Mexican street fare—before the show, which starts around 10 p.m.

Go big at the cavernous Cantina de los Remedios on Paseo de los Heroes and Diego Rivera in Zona Rio. Bullfighting memorabilia, vintage beer babes, and wise one-liners like “If you drink to forget, pay first” cover the wall. Dueling for-hire norteño and mariachi bands fill the monstrous space. You’ll usually find a live feed of the El Grito festivities from Mexico City on the big screen, but, more important, happy hour stretches until 11 p.m.; beers and cocktails come in pairs for the price of one.

You’ll need help recovering the next day. El Potrero on Boulevard Agua Caliente is shaped like a giant hat and has been a TJ breakfast staple since the 1960s. Order chile en nogada, the go-to dish this time of year—its trio of chile, sauce, and pomegranate seeds represent the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag.

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