This Friday, May 5, 2023, marks the 161st anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. Why do we celebrate with a Margarita or Corona or Modelo Negro? More than party time, Cinco de Mayo is an important event in U.S. history, and not so much for Mexico. Read on to find out more.
First of all, it’s time to know that May 5, Cinco de Mayo, is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, 1810, celebrating the separation of Mexico from Spanish rule.
Nevertheless, Cinco de Mayo 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 62.1 million Latinos living in the U.S. according to the 2020 census representing 19 percent of the population, making it the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group according to the Pew Research Center.
Perhaps we know Cinco de Mayo as the name of a favorite local Tex-Mex restaurant, or the promotion of a favorite beverage accompanied by guacamole. (Avocados are imported from Michoacan, Mexico.) At the end of this week, 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 for Happy Hour on May 5?
But there’s much more to it than that, according to historian David Hayes-Bautista, as reported by CNN and Reza Gostar in GlendoraPatch. It notable 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. If Blacks could be enslaved, so could brown and indigenous people, too.
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. This was especially significant for Latinos, since much of the American Southwest was populated by those with Spanish and Mexican heritage.
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.
Watch this YouTube video to know more about Cinco de Mayo as told by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista.
Quick footnote: I’m recovering from surgery at University of New Mexico Medical Center and in Albuquerque with my son and daughter-in-law. All went well. No pain. No opioids. Amazing surgical team. No worries. I’m hoping to go home to Taos this weekend. The kids are going out for Cinco de Mayo. I’ll be here, resting! My surgeon is Latina as is her medical resident. We’ve come a long way, but not far enough!