The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

May 6, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

Countries' celebrations ‘completely different’

HERMITAGE — Cinco de Mayo is celebrated “completely different ways” in Mexico than in the U.S., said Jesus Hernandez, Hermitage restaurant owner.

“It is a party here,” Hernandez said. “Some people say, ‘Why do we celebrate it here?’ ”

The answer, Hernandez said, is that it is a holiday shared by both countries.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are vivid in his memories from childhood. He hails from the small Mexican town of La Isla, part of the state of Puebla, where American and Mexican soldiers fought side by side to defeat the French on May 5, 1862.

“It is very intense in school,” Hernandez said. “They really enforced the history.”

Hernandez was tasked as a boy for three years straight to give a speech in his town on the history of the holiday. This was when he was about eight, and he said those years are some of his best memories of Cinco de Mayo.

The holiday sticks out in Hernandez’s mind because the kids loved to don costumes and carry rifles they carved from wood.

The celebration, which Hernandez said was attended by everyone in the town, started with the Mexican national anthem, followed by a speech that outlined the history of Cinco de Mayo, then a parade.

Every May 5th in Mexico, the parents make traditional soldier garb for their kids to wear when they march in the parade, just as U.S. soldiers did in Mexico City with Mexican soldiers after they defeated the French together so long ago.

“American soldiers started celebrating the victory along with the Mexicans,” Hernandez said. “It’s like a football game, when players say about a game, ‘Do you remember that day?’ ”

Hernandez left home when he was 12 and started doing “anything.”

He is the oldest of six and said it was necessary for him to go out on his own so he could help feed his family.

“Everybody worked,” he said, referring to those age 12 and older. “Love don’t feed your stomach.”

He laughed when he recalled the numerous odd jobs he had, but felt his life “settled” when he landed in the restaurant industry around 1995 in Kentucky.

There, he worked his way up from dishwasher, to cook, to waiter and eventually manager there.

Hernandez was unfamiliar with American culture at that time. He said he knew nothing of a lot of the traditions, and used Thanksgiving as one example.

He took every opportunity he could to learn about American culture.

“I never had lunch at my own restaurant,” Hernandez said.

He watched how waiters and waitressed served their customers, took notes and made friends.

As he searched for a place to start his restaurant, he came upon the site his restaurant has been at since 2002.

He is proud to work alongside his brothers, with one as head cook since the inception of La Isla Mexican Restaurant, 1800 E. State Street.

The mix of cultures in the Shenango Valley intrigues Hernandez, and allows him to learn many cultural traditions.

“I think that’s why I like it here,” Hernandez said.

With a steady flow of people who greeted Hernandez and joked with him during the four o’clock hour on Monday – Cinco de Mayo – at least three-quarters of La Isla’s tables were filled.

“This is nothing yet,” he said of the overflowing bar areas as well. “Each year (on Cinco de Mayo) it grows bigger and bigger.”

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