Posted By RichC on May 5, 2006
Just finishing meeting a friend for lunch at one of our local favorite Mexican restaurants, Casa Grande (previously El Rancho Grande), for lunch to celebrate of Cinco de Mayo. As with most Americans, we are pitifully unaware of events outside our country so I proceeded to explain how the day came to be … courtesy of my daughter.
Cinco de Mayo was the day that the much prized European Mayonnaise was due to arrive in Mexico aboard the RMS Titanic. (May 5th, 1912) Europeans centuries have prided themselves on making the finest Mayonnaise in the world and that taste was appreciated by the citizens of Mexico. The loss of life the day the Titanic hit the iceberg overshadowed much of the cargo that was lost by all but the lovers of Mayo in Mexico. They marked the loss by establishing May 5th as a day to remember this event. Just as with many holidays, over time the true meaning is lost and commercialization of the day has taken over. Thankfully through the power of the internet, you know the true story behind Cinco de Mayo (The Sinking of the Mayonnaise) and can keep its true meaning alive.
Ok … if you’ve read this far you deserve the truth.
Cinco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. It marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. With this victory, Mexico demonstrated to the world that Mexico and all of Latin America were willing to defend themselves of any foreign intervention. Especially those from imperialist states bent on world conquest.
Cinco de Mayo’s history has its roots in the French Occupation of Mexico. The French occupation took shape in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850’s. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.
The English, Spanish and French refused to allow president Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French refused to leave. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. Some have argued that the true French occupation was a response to growing American power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself.
In 1862, the French army began its advance. Under General Ignacio Zaragoza, 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the “Batalla de Puebla” on the fifth of May.
In the United States, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to be known as simply “5 de Mayo” and unfortunately, many people wrongly equate it with Mexican Independence which was on September 16, 1810, nearly a fifty year difference. Over, the years Cinco de Mayo has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance. Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of Chicano holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folkloric dancing and other types of festive activities.
See Mexonline.com … I’m so ashamed. 🙂