Luisa Blanco column mug

Luisa Blanco is assistant professor of economics in the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

Today millions of Americans will celebrate a Mexican holiday that few people in Mexico actually care about.

Though the 5th of May — Cinco de Mayo — is a national holiday in the country of Mexico, formal celebratory activities are only likely to occur in the town of Puebla, where the battle being commemorated took place. Far more important to the country is its Independence Day (Sept. 16), which barely registers on the cultural radar in the United States.

I don't begrudge Americans their desire to toast a holiday of marginal relevance with margaritas of marginal quality. But Mexico's importance to the United States goes far beyond the occasional shared celebration, a fact that's lost amid the annual May fiesta.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the against-all-odds victory of the Mexican Army over the French Army on May 5, 1862. Outnumbered two-to-one and lacking the advanced weaponry of their opponents, the Mexican Army was able to deliver Napoleon's army its first defeat in 50 years.

That defeat resonated far beyond the Mexican border. Due to their resounding rout in the Battle of Puebla, the French were unable to continue their assistance to the Confederate Army. Consequently, Mexico's victory is often considered a key factor leading to the Union Army's victory in Gettysburg in July 1863.

This military interdependence foreshadowed economic interdependence in the years to come. Today, Mexico's well-being has important implications for the United States (and vice versa). Mexico is one of the United States' top trading partners, ranking second after Canada as a recipient of American exports. Mexico also is a major recipient of capital from the United States, where many American firms have established operations.

Not only are these two countries interconnected in terms of trade and capital flow, but Mexican-born immigrants represent around 30 percent of total immigrants in the United States, according to Census Bureau data.

Economic and security conditions in Mexico are far from perfect, and unfortunately they've clouded Americans' impression of the country. But the statistics paint a more complex picture than the one on the nightly news.

According to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth for 2012 is expected to reach 3.6 percent, unemployment should be kept below 5 percent, and no risk of high inflation is present.

Mexico is also recognized as one of the most fiscally cautious countries. The fiscal deficit in 2012 represents only around 3 percent of the budget, which is right on the target set by Mexican officials. In addition, the external debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to remain near 40 percent; the ratio of its American neighbors exceeds 90 percent.

The United States needs Mexico to do well in the same way Mexico needs the United States to do well. That requires not just policy makers who appreciate the north-south "special relationship," but also average citizens who view Mexico as more than a dangerous place with a few noteworthy holidays.

Given the shared 2,000-mile border, the destiny of these two countries will always be interconnected, and a continued partnership is crucial to promote further economic development and security in the Western Hemisphere.

Blanco is assistant professor of economics in the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

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