There is hardly anyone in the East Room of the White House without a margarita in their hand. In the vestibule, waiters serve tacos to the guests while a military band plays Guantanamera – which is, of course, actually a Cuban song. Since there are no Mexican flags or sombreros, margaritas and tacos were the next best indicators that a Cinco de Mayo party is going on.
The Mexican band Maná was the main event at President Barack Obama’s last May 5 celebration as president. The day is actually more popular in the United States than in Mexico, with many Americans mistakenly believing it marks Mexican Independence Day. In fact, it commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French military during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 as Napoleon’s troops fought to occupy the country. No matter, Cinco de Mayo is the perfect excuse to offer happy hour specials on margarita, tequila and nachos with guacamole.
Neither Maná nor Obama mentioned Donald Trump but his name hovered in the air
Maná played seven songs as 200 people cheered, sipped margaritas and compulsively took photos with their cellphones. It was an unusual setting for a Maná concert: a brightly lit hall with solemn decor and a very elegantly dressed public. Attendees included the Cuban-American musician Emilio Estefan and the Spanish chef José Andrés.
It was Maná’s first performance at the White House and the culmination of its relationship with Obama. In 2012, the group helped the president court the Latino vote in Nevada and played at his second inauguration in January 2013.
Maná and Obama did not share the stage, but they did speak briefly after the event. When the president took the stage, the crowd went wild. “Buenas tardes, feliz Cinco de Mayo. Bienvenidos a la Casa Blanca,” he told the guests. Obama said the event was one of the best Washington “fiestas” of the year.
Neither Maná nor Obama mentioned Donald Trump but his name hovered in the air. The New York millionaire and presumptive Republican candidate in November’s presidential elections has made his anti-immigration stance a defining characteristic of his campaign. Trump promises to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. He also plans to pressure Mexico to help finance the construction of a wall at the border and raise stiff tariffs to prevent manufacturing operations from moving abroad.
Obama also talked about advances the Latino community has made during his time in office, though he admitted that he had not met every objective
Obama alluded to Trump just once during his speech. In order to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which he failed to do, everyone must vote, he said. “We’ll have another occasion to talk about that. But we’re going to have to have some historic turnout rates come November,” he told the crowd. Democrats are hoping Trump’s belligerence will inspire Latinos to vote en masse.
Obama also talked about advances the Latino community has made during his time in office, though he admitted that he had not met every objective. For example, he failed to create a path to citizenship for immigrants. Obama also emphasized the “incredible bonds” that the two countries share.
All those ties would be threatened were Trump to become president. Several journalists joked about whether the real estate businessman would hold a White House Cinco de Mayo event. In an effort to ease tensions, Trump tweeted a photo of himself enjoying a taco bowl and wished everyone a happy Cinco de Mayo. “I love Hispanics,” he added on his post.
Maná has already jumped into the fray and criticized Trump. In November, the band and Los Tigres del Norte unfurled a banner at the Latin Grammy Awards that read: “Latinos united. Do not vote for racists.”
After its White House concert, the band appeared before the press in front of the Oval Office, just as political and international leaders do. Band leader Fernando Olvera avoided any direct attacks against Trump but said “we must create bridges not walls.” He added that he would accept Trump’s invitation to play at the White House though he seemed to be hoping that day will never come. “Latinos can shift the balance of the presidency,” he told reporters.
English version by Dyane Jean François.