Trancito Díaz vigorously beat a bowl of cream, then passed the whisk to his youngest son. Jakob, a 16-year-old freshman at Pasadena’s Memorial High School, tried a few stirs of his own. Trancito, 61, nodded approvingly with a large smile and then took a spatula to finish. Within a few minutes, the milk-soaked cake was covered in a blanket of cream, decorated with sliced strawberries and peaches and emblazoned in festive red script: “Feliz 5 de Mayo.”
Trancito, the chef and owner of the Mexican bakery and cafe La Guadalupana in Montrose, worked Sunday morning to fill a rush of Cinco de Mayo orders. Staff lowered furrowed logs of dough into oil with a sizzle, and pulled out golden churros as they filled an order of 250 for a celebration at the Kinkaid School. Robert Díaz, Trancito’s middle son who co-owns the restaurant, had stayed three hours late the afternoon before baking hundreds of alfajores, sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche.
Across the Houston, other celebratory preparations were taking place. This weekend, the city hosted not one, but two Cinco de Mayo parades, while many bars put on their own events. And across the country, Nielsen data shows a nearly 20-percent spike in the sales of salsa, guacamole and mezcal takes place during the week leading up to Cinco de Mayo, testament to the holiday’s popularity.
But while many treat Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Mexican culture, for Trancito, it means something different.
May 5 was the day in 1862 when Mexico, in the midst of a French invasion, won back the region of Puebla, where Trancito grew up. Not only that, but his great grandfather happens to be Porfirio Díaz, a general who fought in the Battle of Puebla and later served 31 years as the president of Mexico.
Every year in Puebla when Trancito grew up, bands would play in the streets and families would walk down to Porfirio Díaz’s memorial, decorated for the day with flowers and colorful banners made of cut paper.
“We celebrate at the tomb because it’s part of our history, you know?” he said. “And we remember where we are and where we come from.”
Robert, 43, agreed. “My people fought for their freedom, and that’s changed what Puebla is.”
In his cafe, people mused on what the holiday means in America.
“I think it’s a very commercial day to drink beer or margaritas,” said Kareny Villegas, as she finished her breakfast.
Her cousin, Christian Peralta, said that it was a different holiday in the United States than in Mexico City, where he grew up. There, he compared Cinco de Mayo to a holiday like Columbus Day. “It’s not celebrated,” he said.
Xavier Guevara used similar language when he considered the difference. “Ultimately, here, it’s another day to celebrate,” he said. “Whereas there, it’s a day to remember, to think about the feelings, the sentiments, of things.”
When it came to Cinco de Mayo, he concluded, “Everyone has their own way to do it, just like everyone has their own way to pray.”
If the way to celebrate is by remembering their heritage, every day is Cinco de Mayo for the Díazes. Many items on the menu pay homage to the region. Trancito gets the base for his mole, a Pueblan specialty, from his hometown, and the churros are a take on a family recipe. The cafe’s famous coffee, which smells like cinnamon, is grown near two Pueblan volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which legend says were once humans who died of broken hearts (a poster of the star-crossed lovers hangs on the wall). Trancito’s brother roasts the coffee beans himself inside of a traditional stone oven.
“It’s a day to be able to learn about the history and family,” Jakob said as he watched the kitchen commotion as staff prepared for the morning rush. Robert has taken over the Montrose cafe as Trancito opens a Pasadena location, and Jakob said he looks forward to soon working weekends and summers at the new iteration of the business his father founded 24 years ago.
“He gives me so much, I want to help how I can,” Jakob said. “He left the path wide open.”
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