An archive image of dancers at the annual Cinco de Mayo Festival in Washington, D.C. (Photo: dbking)

As a kid growing up in Mexico, I heard the song "La Paloma," or The Dove, performed by many different artists. The song was written in Cuba in the 1850s by a Spanish composer named Sebastian Yradier. While the melody is sweet, the song included a few verses of political satire. By the time the French invaded Mexico in the early1860s, the song had become popular there, with some new lyrics. These were some of the earliest protest verses written in Mexico. The lyrics even mention the leader of the opposition against the French invaders — Benito Juarez. He went on to become one of Mexico's most revered presidents. The Mexican army defeated the French invaders in Puebla on May 5, 1862. That day is now celebrated as the holiday, Cinco de Mayo. And "La Paloma" continues to be updated. Recently, "La Paloma" was performed by the Mexican pop singer Eugenia Leon. Her version features lyrics addressing the political situation in Mexico in 2006, during the disputed presidential election. "Don't give up my country", she sings. "Here's my song for you, May the eagle and the serpent defend this nation." That's a line referring to the Mexican flag, and the country's national identity. So next time you hear "La Paloma" remember the tender melody that became Mexico's battle cry for freedom and justice.

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