Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Cinco de Mayo

I had a lot of fun doing the Mardi Gras post so I thought, “why not I'll just keep going with this history on holidays thing”. Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! First, can anyone else believe it's May already! Where has time gone? Second, who's ready for some margaritas!!! I know I am! Here's a little history on the holiday. 

Cinco de Mayo literally means the 5th of May. The holiday is celebrated all over the U.S. and only regionally in Mexico. It's actually is a holiday that is virtually ignored in most Mexico. Doesn't make my sense really does it? American's celebrate the holiday as a way to show Mexican heritage and pride. It's also a way for us to observe the cause of freedom & democracy during the first years of the American Civil War. In Mexico the holiday is only celebrated regionally in the state of Puebla. In Puebla Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Cinco de Mayo is not to be confused with the Mexico's Independence Day, which is their most important national holiday, on September 16th. 

Cinco de Mayo all started because of the French occupation of Mexico. France had some control over Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846 - 48, the Mexican Civil War of 1858, and the 1860 Reform Wars. Due to these wars Mexico was almost bankrupt and their national treasury was in ruins. Since the nation was having severe money issues the president at the time, President Benito Juarez, suspended all foreign debt payments for 2 years in July of 1861. Benito promised payments would resume after the 2 year period. However, the French, British, and Spaniards were not digging this “no money for two years deal” and shipped their naval forces over to Veracruz and demanded their payments. Britain & Spain were able to negotiate for their money and peacefully left. France did not have quite a nice plan in mind. Under the rule of Napoleon III, France decided to seize this opportunity and create a Latin empire in Mexico. This empire was named the Second Mexican Expire (clever). French invasion of Mexico began late 1861 where a very well–armed and large French fleet caused President Juarez and his government to retreat. As Napoleon moved from Veracruz towards the Mexico City he came across some pretty P.O.ed Mexican armies & militias. Near Puebla, in the Mexican forts of Loreto & Guadalupe the French army of about 8,000 men attacked the Mexican army of about 4,000 men. Mexico doesn’t seem to have a chance do they? But wait! Somehow the Mexican army was able to not only able defeat, but crush the French army . Mind you the French army was the best at the time and had not been defeated in almost 50 years. This defect took place on May 5, 1862. The Mexican victory represented a significant morale boost for the army and the Mexican people as a whole. The magazine Time put it this way: "The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath." The Mexican army may have won the battle, but they did not win the war. A year later and with 30,000 more troops the French defeated the Mexican army and captured Mexico City. With the capture of the city the French then established Emperor Maximilian I as the ruler of Mexico. Luckily, the French victory was short-lived due to the American Civil War. French rule only lasted three years, from 1864 - 1867. The American army was able to give Mexico the support it needed to push France out after Mexicans had executed Maximilian. However, the Battle of Puebla was and is still seen as a huge turning point for Mexico. There are two major reasons why the battle was so important. First, the morale boost and being able to beat an army that had not been beaten for 50 years gave Mexico the confidence it needed to push back even after France established it’s empire. Second, since the Battle of Puebla and the French, no country in the America's has been invaded by a European military force. 

The Battle of Puebla.
So I'm sure you are still wondering why America celebrates Cinco de Mayo more than most of Mexico does? Well, here is why.  Many historians believed the French had different intentions than just invading Mexico to start an empire. It's been argued that Napoleon’s ultimate goal was to break up the American Union by helping the South, which was in the midst of the Civil War. Napoleon had been searching for a new spread to establish his new empire for a quite some time now. When he heard that Britain and Spain had gone to Mexico to claim their money and did not stay and his ears perked. Next, he heard the news of the America fighting with itself in, The Civil War. Napoleon knew it was time to bring it. So Napoleon being the sneaky, yet brilliant general he was decided this was the perfect opportunity, to not only land a Mexican empire, but maybe even an American one to. It's been said that Napoleon's strategy was to feed off the fact that America was focused on it own conflict, start in Mexico to seem not so suspicious but then use the Mexican army he defeated and the French army to support and resupply the Southern Confederate troops against the North. This is the biggest reason as to why the Battle of Puebla on May 5th is so significant to America. The Mexican win denied Napoleon the chance to resupply those Confederate troops. If the battle had not been won by Mexico the French would have come to the aid of the South, and America's history would look quite different than what it does now. Thank you Mexico!!!! 

Kids in a Cinco de Mayo parade.
Performers for Cinco de Mayo
Dancing is a huge Cinco de Mayo tradition.

Now here are some fun facts about Cinco de Mayo: 

Have margaritas always been the unofficial drink of Cinco de Mayo? Hardly! While Tequila holds a long and storied place in Mexican and Mexican-American celebratory traditions, the margarita didn’t even exist in 1862! While tequila, ice, lime, and sugar all existed in 1862, they weren’t brought together in the form of a margarita until about 1930. Maybe that’s another day that deserves celebration. Just sayin’.
Yummy! I think it should become official.

Are there any traditional Cinco de Mayo songs? While there are no songs specifically for Cinco de Mayo, there are plenty of songs with Cinco de Mayo in the lyrics, including “Isis” by Bob Dylan and “Mexico” by Cake. In fact, the following bands/artists all have songs titled “Cinco de Mayo”: War, Liz Phair, Senses Fail, and Herb Alpert.

So they don’t party so much in Mexico, huh? Whoa, hardly. In fact, Cinco de Mayo is just one of more than 365 festivals that are celebrated by Mexicans and people of Mexican descent. No wonder Mexico is such a popular spring break destination! Check out some of their other major holidays here: Mexico's Public Holidays

The largest Cinco de Mayo event in the world isn’t in Mexico. The Festival de Fiesta Broadway, held in Los Angeles, typically draws more than 500,000 revelers. Events in Denver and St. Paul, Minnesota also draw hundreds of thousands.
Ariel view of L.A. at the The Festival de Fiesta Broadway. 

Wishing everyone a happy & safe Cinco de Mayo. 


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