President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden welcomed Beatriz Gutiérrez Mueller de López Obrador, wife of the president of Mexico, to the White House on Thursday in honor of Cinco de Mayo.
“Mexican-American culture is a great contribution to America,” the president said from the Rose Garden ceremony, later adding that the bonds between the two countries are “further strengthened by our shared history and heritage, culture, pride, and countless contributions of Mexican Americans.”
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 battle victory against the French amid the Franco-Mexican War. The win was short-lived, as Mexico did not gain full independence from French occupation until 1867. Cinco de Mayo does not mark Mexico’s independence day – that comes in September – but rather the unexpected and symbolic victory in Puebla, where the battle was fought.
Now, the day is predominantly celebrated by Mexican Americans and those in the United States as a nod to Mexican culture and heritage. It is a relatively minor holiday within Mexico, save for the celebrations held in the state of Puebla.
“Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate freedom and resilience,” Biden said. “And you know, it's also a day to celebrate friendship.”
The president went on to discuss the relationship between the United States and Mexico, speaking fondly of President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s visit to the White House last November.
“He pointed to [...] a big portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hanging on the wall and he told me that he liked Roosevelt because he was a president who initiated the good neighbor policy between our two nations,” Biden recalled of the visit. “I told him that today, the United States and Mexico are more than good neighbors. We’re genuine, true friends, partners.”
“There's an unshakable bond strengthened by a mutual respect and our shared commitment to the prosperity and security of both our nations. (Mexico) is not our backyard. It's our front yard,” the president added, before welcoming Mexico’s first lady into the Oval Office to see the portrait for herself.
Biden and López Obrador spoke just last Friday, when the two leaders agreed in a phone call to do more to promote “just, humane and effective efforts to reduce irregular migration” at the southern border, the White House reported after their nearly hour long conversation.
Biden briefly touched on the topic Thursday, calling on Congress to push through legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants.
“If Congress won't act on broader reform, let’s pass the bills that had bipartisan support – for Dreamers and those temporarily protected status farmworkers, essential workers,” the president said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it's economic is a smart thing to do as well.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.