Today, many Americans will eat tacos and enchiladas and drink margaritas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Typically, most Americans have no idea of the significance of the holiday. They may assume that it is some religious festival or has something to do with Mexico’s independence from Spain. That would be wrong and wrong.
Back in 1861 France invaded Mexico. Napolean III, the ruler of France at the time, correctly perceived that Mexico was “ripe for the picking.” The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 had virtually bankrupted the country. The US was distracted by its Civil War and thus, unable to oppose France in Mexico. The other European powers, notably Spain and England, were not in the picture. At first, the French, with their superior numbers, equipment and training, routed the Mexicans, but on May 5, 1862 the Mexicans surprisingly defeated the French decisively in a major battle near Puebla, halting their advance. The Civil War ended in 1865, and, thereafter, the US was able to assist Mexico. Eventually, the French needed their military assets at home to prepare to fight the Prussians, so they abandoned their plans to conquer Mexico and withdrew.
The battle at Puebla was significant for several reasons:
1. Though largely symbolic, this victory gave the Mexicans a much-needed infusion of patriotism and national pride.
2. Since then, no country in the Americas has been invaded successfully by a European country.
3. Most importantly for the US, many historians believe that France’s ultimate goal was to enable the South to break away from the North. Mexico could have been used as a military base from which France could have funneled men and equipment to the Confederacy. If they had not been defeated at Puebla, who knows how far north their army would have pushed and who knows what military and political pressure they would have brought to bear against the US. Consequently, it can be posited that that victory helped preserve the Union.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated not only in Mexico, but also in many other countries. Cities in the US, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Japan hold festivals featuring Mexican music, food and drink and celebrating Mexican culture. Technically, Cinco de Mayo, though recognized as a day of celebration throughout Mexico, is not a national holiday, although it is a holiday in the State of Puebla. Throughout the country, the public schools are closed and many towns hold parades or re-enactments of the battle of Puebla. It should be noted that Cinco de Mayo is NOT to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Cinco de Mayo is a great source of pride for people of Mexican descent, as well it should be. It commemorates a significant military victory over a better-equipped, numerically superior force. As denoted above, the victory held historical significance not only for Mexico but for the US as well. So, later today when you raise a glass of Tequila or dig into an order of guacamole give a toast to the brave men of Puebla.