Understanding Cinco de Mayo

With Cinco de Mayo almost upon us, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the real and somber meaning behind this revered Mexican holiday. This is the 155th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, a commemoration of the triumph of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla May 5, 1862. The hero of the Battle of Puebla was General Ignacio Zargoza, who led a group of Mexican soldiers to victory over a better-equipped and larger French army.

Some believe that if France had won the Battle of Puebla, the U.S. Civil War may have gone differently as France sided with the Confederacy. After France won the Franco-Mexican war (1861-1871), the U.S. provided additional military assistance to Mexico and aided their efforts to force France out of Mexico, depose French-appointed emperor Maximilian and allow President Benito Juarez to take leadership of the country.

May 5 is often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, which is Sept. 16. While the Battle of Puebla was fought in 1862, Mexico declared independence from Spain (which had been conquered by French dictator Napoleon) on Sept. 28, 1821.  September 16, widely celebrated in Mexico as its national Independence Day, commemorates the Grito de Dolores (or Cry of Independence) where it is believed that Miguel Hidalgo, one of the nation’s leaders during the War of Independence, made a stirring speech inciting his fellow citizens to rise up against the Spanish regime.

In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become associated less with the Battle of Puebla, but as a celebration of Mexican-American culture.  Aided in part by corporations who recognized the buying power of Hispanic consumers, many U.S. companies began to wrap Cinco de Mayo in a fiesta-style atmosphere, pushing tequila, beer and food, which is now a widely accepted tradition in the United States. So, while appreciating the many assets and traditions Mexico has brought to our own country, this Friday, also consider the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo  by reflecting on the sacrifice of a determined group of Mexican soldiers and commemorating a victory that probably changed the course of history in North America. 

 

Published May 3, 2017

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