Things That Matter

If You Don’t Know The History Of Cinco De Mayo, Here’s A Brief History Lesson Before You Celebrate The Holiday

Cinco de Mayo is upon us and while there is nothing wrong with going out and having a few margaritas with friends, it is important to know why Cinco de Mayo is even a thing. No. It isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day and for the most part, Mexicans aren’t partying it up all night like most of us do here. There are celebrations but they focus more on the history and significance of the day rather than 2 for 1 margaritas specials and bottomless chips and salsa. Let’s go ahead and break down Cinco de Mayo in a *brief* history lesson.

First, let’s just get this out of the way: Cinco de Mayo ≠ Mexican Independence Day.


If you think Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, your history is more than half a century off. Cinco de Mayo is a day to remember and celebrate the Battle of Puebla when Mexican forces unexpectedly defeated French forces in 1862 from an attempted invasion. Mexico got their independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810, a full 52 years before the Battle of Puebla.

It all started in 1861 when Benito Juárez, an indigenous Zapeteco, was elected president of Mexico. However, the Mexican government was low on money and they defaulted on their debts to some European countries.


According to History, years of internal turmoil leading up to Juárez’s election left Mexico in financial ruin. He had no other option than to default on debts owed to some European powers because they just didn’t have the cash. In response, three European countries, Spain, Britain, and France, sent forces to Mexico to demand repayment on the money they had borrowed. Luckily, Juárez was able to negotiate with Spain and Britain and they abandoned their crusade and returned home. However, Napoleon III, the ruler of France at the time, saw this as an opportunity to take some land and set up shop in Mexico.

Spain, Britain, and France all deployed forces to Mexico for repayment on defaulted debt but Napoleon III of France was the only person who wasn’t willing to negotiate. Instead, he sent his forces to Mexico determined to take some land and create an empire.


The first thing France did was drive Juárez, his government, and his forces out of Veracruz by force.


According to History, with the government and military forces in retreat and expecting an instant victory, 6,000 French troops under the direction of General Charles Latrille de Lorencez began their march to Puebla de Los Ángeles.

French forces quickly began advancing onto Puebla de Los Ángeles on their way to Mexico City to continue their invasion.


Puebla, as it is known today, is located between Veracruz and Mexico City. According to The Guardian, Puebla was founded more than 500 years ago by Spaniards as a travel town since it was located between the two major cities. So, obviously, in order for the French to make it to Mexico City, they would have followed the most traveled path between the two landing them right into Puebla.

But, what the French didn’t know was that Juárez had assembled a group of 2,000 men who, led by Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza, were ready to fight for Mexico.


The French really had no idea what was waiting for them. But, let’s not forget that the French had 6,000 troops while Mexico had only 2,000. Just by the numbers, it seemed like France was going to steamroll right through Puebla on their way to Mexico City.

When the French made it to Puebla, it was May 5, 1862 and the battle began to rage. According to History, the battle went on for less than a day before the French admitted defeat in the battle and retreated.


The Mexican troops who were both smaller in number and significantly under armed, prevailed. The French lost 500 men in the Battle of Puebla while the Mexico lost just under 100 men. The French did retreat from Puebla defeated, but it wasn’t the last time the French would take aim at this town. Between March and May of 1863, the French returned and conquered Puebla, according to Napoleon.Org. By July of 1863, French forces had taken control of Mexico City and Juárez was with his troops in San Luis Potosí and established their French empire in Mexico. It wasn’t until 1867, when Napoleon III became disillusioned with ruling Mexico, that French forces began leaving Mexico.

To this day, Mexicans remember the day of their unexpected victory with reenactments and parades.


Sure. Some people party but the point of Cinco de Mayo isn’t about drinking and partying, but remembering a time when only 2,000 Mexican forces were able to stop the conquering of Mexico by French forces.

You can watch an ABC news story about Cinco de Mayo below:


READ: White House Decides To Celebrate Cinco De Mayo A Day Early And Social Media Isn’t Having It

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A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

Entertainment

A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

porvenirmovie / Instagram

Porvenir is a Spanish word. If you break it down, por venir literally means to come, and the translation is the future. It’s also the name of what used to be a tiny town in Texas located right next to the Rio Grande on the border. The village of Porvenir in Texas, which is a town no more, had roots that reflect the brutal and deadly colonization that this country was built on. 

“Porvenir, Texas” is a new documentary on PBS that brings to light the massacre that happened on the border more than 100 years ago. 

Credit: porvenirmovie / Instagram

As the tense immigration crisis continues in this country today, the documentary “Porvenir, Texas” shows how this struggle has been part of our history since the inception of the United States of America. 

The story of the massacre cannot be told before discussing the war between the U.S. and Mexico. While the U.S. continued to expand in the southwest through its war with Mexico, the battle to live and remain in the country affected the most vulnerable people who weren’t part of the war at all. They were Mexicans who lived in Texas and along the border before it was ever part of the United States. However, after Mexico lost Texas to the United States, those living in Texas, became Americans overnight. That didn’t please the incoming residents — white people looking to make the country their home. 

The documentary exposes the brutal killing of 15 Mexican men — some who were American as well — which the U.S. tried to hide from history. 

Credit: porvenirmovie / Instagram

With the expansion of the U.S. throughout its new state of Texas, white ranchers staked their claim in areas that were owned by Mexican-Americans. Like gentrification today, Texas was also gentrified during the Wild West, which meant Mexicans, who were now Americans, were displaced because of higher taxes. 

With the revolution still going on in the Mexican border and new white ranchers taking over land, racial tensions were high. White people were told that all Mexicans were “bandits” and Mexican-Americans were in fear for their lives thinking they could be killed based on the color of their skin.

White people were killing Mexican-Americans outright with no consequences, and the film shows graphic images of that. 

Credit: porvenirmovie / Instagram

Here’s a summary of that fateful violent night as reported by NBC News: “In the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1918, a group of ranchers, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Army cavalry soldiers entered the village and rousted the residents from their beds. They led away 15 unarmed men and boys of Mexican descent to a nearby bluff, where they shot and killed them. These victims ranged in age from 16 to 72, and some were American citizens. The town’s women and children fled across the border to Mexico for safety. The next day, the perpetrators returned and burned the village to the ground. Porvenir ceased to exist.”

We have no idea how many other Mexican-Americans were killed with such brutality during this period because there’s no record of it. The only reason the story of Porvenir can be told today is because of two men that documented what happened. 

Credit: porvenirmovie / Instagram

Harry Warren was a white teacher that worked with some of the community in Porvenir and wrote about what happened that night. He also was a witness to the bodies.  José Tomás (“J.T.”) Canales, who was a state legislator at the time, launched an investigation against the Rangers, and his depositions and testimony have been preserved as well. 

“There were many cases like Porvenir, where the initial response from the state was to try to fabricate what really took place,” Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor at Brown University and the founding member of the public history project Refusing To Forget, told NBC News. “It was not unusual for the state to try to justify such acts, by criminalizing the victims. Residents of Porvenir were described at times as squatters or bandits. None of this is true.”

Christina Fernandez Shapter produced the film and spoke about the importance of making sure these stories are never forgotten. 

Credit: jefegreenheart / Instagram

“I am Mexican American myself, I am from Texas, my family has been here for generations,” she told NBC News. “And I know we all have stories in our families, sometimes of land being taken from us or other injustices.”

Here’s a clip of the film.

Click here to watch the entire documentary. 

READ: This Exhibition Told The Stories Of Mexicans And Mexican-Americans Who Were Illegally Deported In The ’20s And ’30s

Historic Chicano Murals Were Whitewashed All Over Los Angeles But A New Movement Is Bringing Them Back

Things That Matter

Historic Chicano Murals Were Whitewashed All Over Los Angeles But A New Movement Is Bringing Them Back

Javier Rojas / mitú

Ernesto de la Loza can remember a time when he could walk down the streets of Boyle Heights and be greeted by the sight of vibrant murals. Sometimes, he’d even run into some of his own work on neighborhood walls. 

“Things were different 40 years ago. I saw our community come together and paint our stories on walls,” said De la Loza, 71, who was a renowned muralist during the Chicano Pride movement in East LA in the ’60s and ’70s. “Now, all I see are new coffee shops and yoga studios. It’s not the same.”

De la Loza was behind some of the most iconic murals in the city that included work that highlighted environmental awareness and the fight for equal rights. He recalls the first mural he painted was a Mayan motif at El Sereno Park back in 1968 as a 19-year-old. 

“These murals represented our struggles and our stories that weren’t being taught in history books,” De la Loza says. “That’s why I started painting, to express myself and for the past 50 years I’ve stood true to that.”

De La Loza was part of the “Golden Age of Chicano Muralism” in LA during the ’60s and ’70s. Today, the work from that era is quickly disappearing. 

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

He takes me on a tour outside of his work office in Echo Park, a rapidly changing neighborhood in Los Angeles that was once predominantly Latino. He nods to the new art studio near his office opening soon and sighs. De la Loza says that there was once a colorful mural of the Lady of Guadalupe right next to his office but as we make a turn around the block to see it, we find white paint and graffiti covering any resemblance to the mural. 

“This neighborhood had a mural on every corner and you can hold me to that,” de la Loza says with pride in his voice. “It was beautiful.”

De la Loza is right. The streets of LA did indeed have a mural on every corner, or so it sure seemed like that back then. Murals popped up everywhere in Los Angeles in the 1970s as artists took to walls to express views on political and social issues, including student uprisings and civil rights struggles. 

According to Isabel Rojas-Williams, 69, a mural expert and historian, at the height of the mural movement in LA there was an estimated 2,500 murals up on city walls. Then, they started disappearing. 

Due to an increase in city-wide graffiti, weather damage and neighborhood complaints, many of these historic murals began to be whitewashed across Los Angeles

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

“Los Angeles was once the mural capital of the world. All over the Eastside of LA there were beautiful pieces of art that celebrated and empowered Chicano culture,” said Rojas-Williams. “There were well over 2,500 murals over the city from Boyle Height to the San Fernando Valley.”

She says that the Estrada Courts housing project in Boyle Heights was the birthplace of the Chicano mural movement. Over 90 murals once stood at low-income housing projects where some of the most well-known muralists like De la Loza and David Botello painted work there. Today, there are roughly only 50 murals there. That is due to graffiti and lack of financial funding to restore the murals. 

“There was tagging all over them and that was painful to see because it was our own people behind it,” De La Loza as he looks up to the sky. “We killed the mural movement and that pains me.”

The erasure of murals in LA can be traced back to the ’90s when murals began to disappear due to tagging, damage due to weather and overall lack of maintenance. In return, the damaged murals became “eyesores” to some in the community and complaints to the city followed. Gentrification would also begin to hit Northeast LA during this period which led to a change in demographics in these neighborhoods. 

“They didn’t understand the importance of these murals and what they meant to our people,” said Rojas-Williams. “That was the beginning of the end of the mural movement and then came the moratorium.”

In 2002, the city of Los Angeles essentially banned the painting of murals and enacted a moratorium on murals on private property and businesses. That period is known as the “dark age of muralism in LA”. 

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

Los Angeles put a mural ban in place due to advertisers suing the city on 1st Amendment grounds. They argued that while their ads were banned from being placed on city walls, muralists could still create giant pieces of work. In return, city officials opted to prohibit all new murals. An individual who wanted to put up a new mural could be fined or even put in jail due to the ban. 

The moratorium lasted 11 years until it was finally lifted in 2013. A new mural ordinance would also be enacted that protected artists work if ever damaged or attempted to be painted over. The rules permitted new murals in business and industrial zones as long as artists registered their projects with the city and paid a $60 application fee. But for many, the damage was already done.

During those 11 years, hundreds of pieces of art were lost due to the whitewashing of murals from the city. There was anger from the art community and historians like Rojas-Williams, who worked on lifting the ban, says the city painted over iconic murals that can never be reclaimed. 

“It felt like the erasure of our culture and the city did this over a decade span losing hundreds of murals in return,” she says. 

For De La Loza, when the moratorium ended it coincided with another wave of change that came to LA around 2013. Highland Park and Echo Park, both Latino enclaves for decades, saw more gentrification hit and a wave of new owners come to the community. By then, murals in those neighborhoods were long gone. 

“I look around this neighborhood and it feels like we were never here,” De La Loza says as we head back to his office. “We lost more than just a piece of art, we lost our history, we lost years of hard work and more importantly we lost our presence in this city.”

Today, Los Angeles is starting to see some of that creative boom again as new murals have popped up all over the city. Yet, there is still much work to be done. 

Credit: Javier Rojas/ mitú

Artists in LA today have more creative freedom than ever when it comes to putting up new murals. But things aren’t as easy as just simply picking a wall and painting on it. With the addition of fees and permits and an agreement that a mural must remain up for at least two years, the new ordinance had unintended consequences. According to Rojas-Williams, many Latino muralists that she speaks to can’t afford these fees or have the time to acquire permits. De La Loza agrees.

“The ordinance helped but in reality it helped the more affluent and outsider community that was coming into the city,” he says. “It’s obvious when you look around the neighborhood whose art is up. It’s nice art but it’s not ours.”

We return to his office and as we say our goodbyes, he shows me one last thing. It’s a book about murals with his artwork on the front cover. He tells me his niece in college was required to read it as part of her college art history class.

“She told me when she saw the book cover she immediately knew it was my work,” De La Loza says as he wipes a tear. “Knowing that a new generation is getting to know about that history and that period gives me hope that one day it’ll be back. 

READ: Mexican-American Artists Add Their Touch To New Mural Corridor At LA’s New LA Plaza Village