History Lesson: Cinco De Mayo

Today, I doing a little history lesson on Mommyality. Something new and one I don’t see being the last. I used to want to be a school teacher when I was a little girl. I realize now I don’t have the patience. That’s not a bad thing, but between bureaucracy, etc., I’m much better advocating for my schools and the staff striving to make it the best possible educational experience my son can have.

So, sit down, grab your notepads and enjoy!

Mexico is a country steeped in battles and rebuilding. However, most people in the United States don’t realize that Cinco de Mayo is not about celebrating Mexican Independence (El Grito de la Independencia–September 16th), but has to do with “The Battle de Puebla” (Battle of Puebla). My Twitter came alive today with cheers of “Happy Cinco de Mayo”, but I wonder if they would so apt to cheer if they knew it was a holiday that is covered in bloodshed….and remembrance? Or that very few states in Mexico actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo? And the original celebration was invented in California in 1863?

Instead of being steeped in joy from the Independence from Spain in 1810, Cinco de Mayo is about their escape from oppression from…France. During the Mexican War (1846-48), Mexico was in tatters. This country had suffered incredible defeat at the hands of America. The 1850’s were times of horrible economic crisis and in 1861 (July 17), President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium to get a handle on his country’s wrecked economy–Mexico was in financial ruin. All foreign debt was placed on hold for two years, defaulting European creditors. (Does this sound eerily familiar?)

While England and Spain negotiated terms of reimbursement, France decided against negotiation and instead took action. Napoleon III took advantage of this opportunity and hoped that with the nation being weakened, an independent empire would be carved out for France.

Twenty-nine years after the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez ordered forces to march upon Veracruz and attacked with 6,000 troops and 2,000 French loyalists, on the path to Puebla de Los Angeles, Napoleon’s ultimate goal.  The Monroe Doctrine stated that any attempts to colonize any parts of the Americas was considered an act of war. Could this be what sparked the French invasion? During the 1800’s, the United States had not only expanded quickly, but expansively. Other world powers saw this as a threat.

Juarez gathered his loyalists, a paltry sum of 4,000, against the French. Until that day, the French had remained undefeated for 50 years, however on May 5, 1862, in Puebla, the Mexican army defeated the French in what is now called the “Batalla de Puebla”. Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza lost fewer then 100 men, while the French forces lost over 500 that day. While the French wouldn’t withdraw for six years, this victory was the boost the Mexicans needed to free their country from French control.

Cinco de Mayo continues to be a  time honored tradition for Mexican-Americans pride for their people and history.


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