Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is one of those holidays I have always wondered why we celebrate. I see pictures of people dressing their kids up in sombreros, and I’m even sipping a margarita made specifically because it has been engrained in me that this day is a day to celebrate Mexican culture. But what is its history and why is it important?

“This day commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.” The Franco-Mexican war lasted until 1867, so why was this battle so important? Why did this war even start? I may be regretting not taking the Mexican history class my friend suggested in college for the first time, ever.

The spark was President Benito Juarez’s suspension of interested payments to foreign countries starting July 17, 1861. France was the primary instigator, backed initially by Spain and Great Britain, and justified military intervention by claiming broad foreign policy of commitment to free trade. However, Napoleon III of France had an ulterior motive, and hoped to seize the entire country to ensure French control in the Latin American countries. When Spain and Great Britain realized this, they withdrew support.

So commenced a five-year war over Mexican independence. The initial defeat of the French army is the above stated Battle of Puebla. But the war continued for another 5 years, ending with ultimate French defeat.

I’m not going to summarize the entire war, but I think the larger point to this is that this “holiday” (it’s barely observed in Mexico) has a richer history than simply sipping margaritas. Maybe there is one other person out there who will search Google for the full story of what Cinco de Mayo really means.