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:
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