First of all, it’s important to know that today, Cinco de Mayo, is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, 1810.
Nevertheless, it marks a significant date in history when the French army was defeated in Puebla on May 5, 1862, marking an important symbolic moment to curtail Napoleon Bonaparte’s designs on establishing a monarchy in North America. When you visit Puebla you can still see the bullet holes in front of the house occupied by General Ignacio Zaragoza.
Most of us know Cinco de Mayo as a U.S. celebration of Latino culture. There are 44.3 million Latinos living in the U.S. according to the 2008 census representing 15 percent of the population.
Perhaps we know Cinco de Mayo as the name of a favorite local Tex-Mex restaurant. Isn’t there a Cinco de Mayo Mexican restaurant in your town? There is in mine! And today, many will of us will welcome the occasion to have a party and raise a toast to our southern neighbor with a beer or Margarita. What are you doing tonight?
But there’s much more to it than that, according to historian David Hayes-Bautista, as reported today by CNN and Reza Gostar in GlendoraPatch. It seems that Cinco de Mayo was a rallying cry in the U.S. by Latinos against the elitist French monarchy, which was sympathetic to the Confederacy during the Civil War. At that time, Latinos sided with the Union, fearing that a Confederacy win would expand slavery to include them.
Dr. Hayes-Bautista, who is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, has uncovered the first groundbreaking research that links the celebration of liberation for Mexicans with the U.S. Civil War and the hope that the Union would prevail. The win at the Battle of Puebla by the Mexican freedom fighters against the elitists energized many Americans early in the war when the Confederacy was powerful, especially Latinos.
So, as you raise your glass with a hearty Salud, recall that Latinos volunteered to serve in the Union Army in order to preserve freedom, independence, and fight for racial justice.