Vice President Joe Biden joked over breakfast this morning about his Irish heritage, drawing laughter from his guests who were gathered in Washington at the Naval Observatory - which hosts the vice president's residence and office - to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
In heralding the Mexican-American relationship as "a bond that's a lot deeper than our long border," the vice president praised the contribution that other cultures have made to the strength of the United States. He said that the United States is a country of immigrants, and that the constant nurturing of other cultures is our greatest strength as a nation.
"On both sides my family came here in the early 1800s," Biden said. "I once said that to [Interior Secretary] Ken [Salazar] and he said, 'Oh Yeah?'" he said to laughter from his guests.
When he decided to run for president in 2008, Biden wanted to look into his heritage. He hired a genealogist, he said, and discovered that his ancestors had come to America in the early 18th century. "In Irish families, there's occasionally a little embellishment by your relatives," Biden joked to an entertained room. "Your great-grandfather was 9-feet, 6 inches tall."
Biden then recalled having a phone conversation with Salazar about the discovery that his family had been in the United States for so long. Salazar's response, Biden said, was "'Long? My family got to New Mexico 400 years ago.'"
The vice president readied himself to make a toast to his guests in honor of Cinco de Mayo, raising his glass of water from his place at the table. He quickly reminded the crowd that it was bad luck in the Irish tradition to toast with water. He said he could hear his grandfather shouting, "Joey, No."
"So, I'm not going to do it," Biden said, placing his water glass back down. The crowd broke into raucous laughter. He proceeded to toast, without a glass, "to friendship, to Mexico and to America, happy Cinco de Mayo."
Biden has said in the past that he does not drink alcohol because he knows too many people who have struggled with alcoholism.
Saturday will mark the 150thanniversary of Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Biden heralded the significance of the day at today's breakfast as proof of the spirit that unites the United States and Mexico. "You should never bet against either one of us," he said.
Attendees included Salazar, Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, Univision's Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, and Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican ambassador to the United States.
Guests were welcomed to the tunes of a Mexican mariachi band, and dined on Spanish omelets and chorizo sausage.