Cinco de Mayo is a holiday for eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas, right? Maybe, but there is a lot more to the holiday than that. How about a little history lesson?!
May 5, 1862, was an important date in the Franco-Mexican War. It was the day the Mexican army took victory over France at the Battle of Puebla. It is also known as ‘Battle of Puebla Day.’
Some confuse Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Mexican independence. That happened 50 years prior. Dia de la Independencia is on September 16, in honor of the day, in 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called for Mexico’s independence, declaring war against the Spanish colonial government.
Fast forward to 1861, Mexico was in financial ruins. The President at that time, Benito Juarez, was forced to default on debt payments to European governments. In response, Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, to demand repayment. Spain and Britain stepped out after successful negotiation, but France was less accommodating.
France, then ruled by Napoleon III, decided to set up an empire on Mexican territory. In 1861, the French army, led by General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, stormed Veracruz, forcing troops and President Juarez into retreat. The 6,000 French troops then set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles in east-central Mexico. From there, he rallied more soldiers, many of which were Indigenous Mexicans, and sent them to Puebla for an attack.
On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, prepared for the attack. The battle started at daybreak, and by early evening, when the French retreated, they had lost nearly 500 French soldiers. There were fewer than 100 Mexican lives lost in the Battle of Puebla. This win represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and was the start of the resistance movement. In 1867, with support from the United States, the French finally withdrew troops and went back home.
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican heritage and culture, especially in areas with large Mexican-American populations. In the 1960s, Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday because it marked a victory of Indigenous Mexicans over European invaders. Parades, parties, Mexican folk dancing, mariachi music, and traditional foods are part of the festivities in various cities around the United States.
In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mainly just observed in Puebla, where the battle occurred. Military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla, and other events memorialize and celebrate the day. It is not a federal holiday, even in Mexico.
I think it is safe to say that celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Mexican food and beverages is appropriate after all. With a better understanding of this holiday’s history, of course. Salud! To the resistance.
The above information gathered from https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/cinco-de-mayo
Originally published in North Forty News, May 5, 2021