Tomorrow, May 5, many of us 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.
In 1861 France invaded Mexico. Napoleon 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 impending 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 [in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)], 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.
Additionally, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in many areas of the US, particularly in locales where there is a sizeable Mexican population, such as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Events include parades, festivals, mariachi bands, and parties.
Cinco de Mayo is supposed to be a joyous holiday, as it celebrates a heroic occasion. Many non-Mexicans also get into the spirit of the holiday and participate in the above celebrations. They dress in Mexican clothing, such as ponchos and sombreros, participate in parades and patronize Mexican restaurants. In past years, some so-called pc police have objected to this, calling it mocking a culture and even racist. Some colleges, such as New Hampshire University, have attempted to restrict their students’ celebrations, even going so far as to ban using the name “Cinco de Mayo.”
Personally, I find these restrictive actions offensive and a violation of the First Amendment. It’s not as if the celebrants painted offensive sayings or mocking cartoons. Wearing ponchos and sombreros and dancing the “Mexican Hat Dance” do not rise to the level of, say, anti-Semitic scribblings on walls or fire-bombing synagogues. THOSE are offensive, or worse. This merely strikes me as getting into the holiday spirit, not being mean-spirited.
Once again, we are all being subjected to the tyranny of the vocal minority. Remember, approximately 80% of the tweets are posted by only 10% of the people, so don’t be fooled by the vocal minority. As an aside, I have to say that in my youth we would have dealt with the pc crowd differently. Rather than kowtow, we would have paraded down main street wearing sombreros and ponchos dancing the Mexican hat dance. Times have sure changed, and not for the better.
As I delineated above, 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. The victory held historical significance not only for Mexico but for the US as well.
So, tomorrow, when you raise a glass of Tequila or dig into an order of guacamole give a toast to the brave men of Puebla. And, if you want to wear a sombrero or a poncho, by all means, do so.