Today is Cinco De Mayo, May 5, a day that Mexican-Americans, along with Mexicans living in the United States, like to celebrate as a day of pride in their Mexican heritage.
Cinco De Mayo Not Celebrated In Mexico
However, the day passes virtually unnoticed in Mexico; instead, it is September 16 that is celebrated as the Day of Independence. On that date in 1810, the “Grito,” of battle cry of independence, was sounded by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest in Dolores, near Guanajuato. It marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence and is the most important national holiday in Mexico.
So What Happened On May 5, 1862?
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the Mexican Civil War of 1858, and the 1860 Reform Wars. These wars left the Mexican Treasury in ruin and nearly bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.
In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, at the time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico that would favor French interests.
The French Invasion
Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat. Moving on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla.
The 8,000-strong French army attacked the much poorer equipped Mexican army of 4,000. Yet the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, the best army at the time, and one that had not been defeated for almost 50 years.
The Mexican Victory – But It Only Lasted For A Year
The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large, and came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath.
The Mexican victory, however, was short-lived. Thirty thousand troops and a full year later, the French were able to depose the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and establish Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico.
Celebrations Of Cinco De Mayo
As a Spanish language teacher, I’ve had my fair share of Cinco de Mayo school days. Perhaps my favorite was when I was teaching fifth grade, and we decided to stage a play to illustrate what happened on May 5, 1862.
One of my fifth grade “French soldiers” was killed in battle, but didn’t want to die. After several squirmings on the battlefield, one of the “Mexican soldiers” yelled at him: “Estas muerto! Stop moving around!”
Our play didn’t last much longer!
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