Tuesday, May 5, 2009

So Just What is Cinco de Mayo?

Every May 5th in Texas and throughout the United States, Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe it is Mexican Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo is actually the commemoration of the defeat of the mighty French Army by a much smaller group of Mexican soldiers. In the United States, people of Mexican descent have adopted and celebrated this holiday, along with Dieciseis de Septiembre (September 16, Mexican Independence Day) in an effort to preserve their cultural heritage. These celebrations are known as the Fiestas Patrias. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in a much smaller scale. It is mostly considered a regional holiday in the beautiful state of Puebla, although there are observances throughout that country.

This holiday provides a brief glimpse into the fascinating history of Mexico and many colorful historical characters of the time. So let's take a closer look:

After a costly war with the United States , and its own civil war known as the War of Reform , Mexico was bankrupt. So in 1861, Benito Juarez, one of Mexico's most beloved presidents, cancelled debt payments to England, the United States and France in order to try to pull the country through.

Benito Juarez
Using the lack of payment as an excuse, Napoleon III of France decided to occupy Mexico. France was successful in its invasion through the port of Veracruz. However, on May 5, 1862, at the city of Puebla, about 4500 Mexican troops were able to defeat the much larger French army (numbering around 6040), which was considered one of the most efficient armies in the world. Mexico had 83 casualties while the French had 462. The Mexicans were led by General Ignacio Zaragoza SeguĂ­n. This is where the Texas connection comes in. Zaragoza was born in Goliad Texas, while it was still the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas!

General Zaragoza Seguin

Although the Mexican army was victorious over the French at Puebla, the victory only delayed the French invasion of Mexico City. The French placed Maximilian I and his wife Charlotte as emperor and empress of Mexico. Many countries, including the United States, refused to recognize the French crown in Mexico. The French eventually withdrew in 1866-1867. Maximilian was executed by Benito Juarez, five years after the Battle of Puebla.

Some historians argue that the Battle of Puebla and the subsequent occupation of Mexico diverted France's interest in the United States' affairs, who at this time was going through its own Civil War. Had France meddled with American interests at that time, it could have been proven catastrophic. Therefore, Cinco de Mayo has significance for Americans in that sense.

So on this day, remember that this holiday commemorates overcoming adversity against all odds! And for that, Viva Mexico!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Cinco de Mayo!