Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cinco de Mayo, a few days later

I always forget what Cinco de Mayo celebrates, so I did a Google search on it. Then, I had to leave for work on May 5th before I'd finished the post. But it seems to me that the information is still worth knowing.

According to Wikipedia:
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a regional holiday in Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico.[1][2] The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.[3][4]

This is not at all the same as Mexican Independence Day, which fell on Sept. 16, 1810. Nevertheless, it represented a significant victory by the Mexican army over a much larger French force.

According to
The French had landed in Mexico (along with Spanish and English troops) five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President (and Indian) Benito Juarez. The English and Spanish quickly made deals and left. The French, however, had different ideas.

Under Emperor Napoleon III, who detested the United States, the French came to stay. They brought a Hapsburg prince with them to rule the new Mexican empire. His name was Maximilian; his wife, Carolota. Napoleon's French Army had not been defeated in 50 years, and it invaded Mexico with the finest modern equipment and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion. The French were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War.
Wikipedia notes that the holiday is of limited importance in Mexico, but that it serves in the United States as a way for Mexican-Americans to celebrate their heritage--much the same role that St. Patrick's Day plays for US citizens of Irish descent. Not only that, the Mexican Army, though victorious at Puebla, was unable to keep the French from installing Maxmillian I as Emperor of Mexico in 1864. Eventually, however, the democratically elected government of Benito Juarez  was able to regain power with the help of large quantities of weapons that had been conveniently "lost" by US forces near the Mexican border. Juarez executed Maxmillian in 1867. suggests that the Mexican victory at Puebla on Cinco de Mayo, 1862 may have played a role in allowing the US government to survive long enough to aid Juarez.
The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the United States to build the greatest army the world had ever seen.  This grand army smashed the Confederates at Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.
This year the celebration of this famous victory over European imperialism may have been subdued because of swine flu and difficult economic conditions. Here's hoping that next year will be better.

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