Home » Blog » Jews, Tacos and Cinco de Mayo
Follow by Email

Jews, Tacos and Cinco de Mayo

You can hardly drive throughout Los Angeles without seeing them, the telltale signs that Cinco de Mayo is approaching:  Mexican flags, bright-colored paper banners and garlands and, of course, 2-for-1 drinks specials at local bars.

As Angelenos, we are familiar with Cinco de Mayo, though many of us know only that it’s celebrated with tacos and beer. So, how many of us know the real story behind this holiday? And how many of us are aware that we have an extended Jewish family of up to 50,000 living in Mexico?

First things first—no matter what you’ve heard, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. That holiday takes place in September. Cinco de Mayo is actually the Day of the Battle of Puebla, which commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. What was so special about their victory? Only that the French army was considered one of the most powerful in the world at that time, and Mexico’s was outnumbered by a battalion double its size.

What do being Jewish and celebrating Cinco de Mayo have in common? How about the idea of defeating the undefeatable? Biblical stories like David and Goliath, or even the Purim story, with Esther taking down Haman, are still strong influences in Judaism today.

But back to Mexican history. How the heck did Jews get south of the border? It actually started long before the Franco-Mexican War. In the early 16th century, Spain banned Judaism and forcibly converted Jews to Catholicism. Seeking religious freedom, which was allowed under the rule of Don Luis de Carvajal in Mexico, many “secret Jews” from Spain immigrated there. Though a Mexican Inquisition was to follow, a small population of Jews remained, undiscovered by authorities, through the Battle of Puebla.

In 1864, although Mexico had won the Battle of Puebla, the French remained in command. Their emperor, Maximilian I, mandated religious tolerance, inviting German Jews to settle in Mexico. This separation of Church and State continued to be enforced under Mexican rule years later, and Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms and religious persecution made Mexico their new home.

Today, the majority of Mexican Jews live in Mexico City and their numbers are expected to grow. Thanks to Mexico’s history of religious tolerance, thousands of Jews in danger were given a new lease on life. So, maybe our own celebration of Cinco de Mayo here in L.A. should reach beyond tacos and cervezas. Maybe we should honor Mexican culture because our neighboring country made it possible for Judaism to survive.

That being said, if you’re still looking for a good kosher taco in L.A., these restaurants won’t disappoint:

  • Taco Flame
  • Mexikosher
  • Taco-Ala-Carte

Related Posts