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.
Is Cinco de Mayo Mexican Independence Day? NO!
Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated and where is it celebrated most? More than a great time for a Margarita or a swig of Corona, Cinco de Mayo was the response by Mexican-Americans — mostly Californians — to the French invasion of Mexico, The Battle of Puebla, and fear that the North would lose the Civil War, enslaving those with Mexican heritage along with Blacks throughout the southwest.
Mexican Californians gave hugs amounts of financial support to preserve the Union and defeat the Confederacy. They had a lot at stake.
I wrote about the roots of Cinco de Mayo in 2012 that offers history and a UCLA professor’s research about the topic.
I’m in southern California this weekend for a family reunion and to attend a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Viva la Vida honoring a dear friend, Michael Stone and his wife Charlotte. I’m reminded again being in my California homeland about how strong Mexican culture here is and has been for centuries. Afterall, this was once part of New Spain!
Mexican Flag, La Bandera de Mexico, Zocalo, Mexico City
So, raise one today for the courage of Mexican-Americans who helped defeat France in the Battle of Puebla, and thereby averting French support for the Confederate Army. We owe them a lot.
Viva la Vida. Viva Mexico!
Meanwhile, I’ll be back in Oaxaca on June 28. Publishing intermittently until then! Saludos.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Mexico
Tagged Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo, history