A couple of months ago I blogged about another “foreign” U.S. holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, and mentioned Cinco de Mayo. This holiday seems to be promoted by beer and tequila makers, all well and good, but there’s a lot more to the meaning of Cinco de Mayo.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
In English, el cinco de Mayo is May 5th (duh, right?). The official observance commemorates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 when an army of 2000 Mexican troops defeated a much larger force of 6000 French soldiers.
Why was there a battle on Cinco de Mayo?
Like many wars, this one started over money. The Mexican-American War in the 1840s and a Mexican civil war called the Reform War from 1858-1860 left Mexico unable to pay debts.
Mexican President Benito Juarez declared a moratorium on debt repayments. Three European powers, England, Spain, and France sent ships to Veracruz, intent on collecting the payments owed them. England and Spain reached a diplomatic settlement with Mexico in April 1862. France, however did not settle.
Under Napoleon III, the French had another motivation for war: a quest for power. Eventually, the French defeated the Mexicans at a second Battle of Puebla in May of 1863 and extended their empire into the new world.
A Hapsburg relative was set up in Mexico City as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. In 1867 Mexican forces put an end to French rule and a firing squad put an end to Maximilian’s life.
Why does Cinco de Mayo matter to Americans? (Or, Why should we care about this holiday?)
Some historians believe the Battle of Puebla was pivotal in our own efforts to hold the United States together. There’s a theory that after an easy victory in Mexico, the French planned to move on and help the Confederacy. But Cinco de Mayo delayed the French, and by the time Maximilian was installed and the French were free to help the southern states, the tide of battle in the U.S. Civil War had turned in favor of the north.
What about you? Are you celebrating Cinco de Mayo? If the great Mexican lagers are your reason for celebrating today, at least lift a bottle in salute to the brave soldiers of the Battle of Puebla.