Most Americans probably do not know the reason behind the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, yet t’s one of the biggest nights of the year for many Mexican restaurants in America.
Some people believe it is Mexican Independence Day, but that is incorrect. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on September 15, 1810, and south of the border, the holiday does not rank as high in importance.
Battle of Puebla
Actually, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Battle of Puebla in which a small troop of Mexican soldiers (between 2,000 to 4,000) fought and defeated a mixed French and Mexican army of around 8,000 in 1862.
An excerpt from an article in the Toledo Blade, May 2, 2000, by Jennifer Caruso states the following:
A battle of wits
The Battle of Puebla was one of many that occurred between France and Mexico during the 1860s. It began when Mexico owed France a lot of money. In 1861, Mexican President Benito Juarez said he could not pay this money back for two years. Emperor Napoleon III of France – the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte – did not like what President Juarez had to say. Very angry, Emperor Napoleon III sent French troops into Mexico to conquer the country.
The French army had never been defeated in the past 50 years, and its soldiers had the newest equipment with which to fight. The confident French army saw Mexico as an easy country to defeat.
The French previously won many battles with Mexico, but the Battle of Puebla was a different story.
In the early morning of May 5, 1862, the large French army marched into the rural farming town of Peubla, wearing new uniforms and carrying their advanced weaponry. The Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, had fewer soldiers and was poorly equipped.
However, this small Mexican militia was able to defeat the French by using their smarts and skills. They did clever things, such as sending a herd of stampeding cattle into the battle to confuse the French. The Mexicans were poor in funds and weapons, but they refused to stop fighting until they won this battle.
A Strong Message
Though France eventually took over Mexico for a short period of time, the victory in the Battle of Puebla (or Batalla de Puebla in Spanish) honors the bravery and strength of General Zaragoza’s small militia and symbolizes Mexican unity. It was a turning point in the Mexican peoples’ fight for independence. Many historians believe this victory helped drive invading foreigners out of North America. In fact, no foreign power has invaded North America since.
May 9, 1862, the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, was declared a national holiday in Mexico. Today, the commemoration of the battle is not observed as a statutory holiday, but all public schools are closed nationwide in Mexico on May 5th.
“The celebration of the Battle of Puebla strengthens national identity,” says Yolanda Gallegos of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D. C. “Cinco de Mayo celebrates the ideals of freedom, liberty, and the Mexican heritage.”
The date celebrates freedom and liberty, two ideals which Mexicans and Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder to protect.
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