Cinco de Mayo (VC-2)

Cinco de Mayo - Not Independence Day!!

Background

The roots of Cinco de Mayo come from the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). It began with the presidency of Benito Juarez in 1861, which at the time Mexico was in quite a pickle with financial stability. This caused for the new president to default on debt payments to European governments, particularly France, Spain, and Britain. Of course, they wanted to be repaid so they sent naval forces to Veracruz demanding their money back. A negotiation was made between Mexico, Britain, and Spain; and they withdrew their forces.

France and Mexico fight it off

That leaves Mexico with the unyielding France still demanding their payback. At the time, France was ruled by Napoleon III who decided this was a chance to carve out an empire out of the Mexican territory. Napoleon had an undefeated French army who he believed would bring a swift defeat over Mexico, but he was wrong. Juarez rounded up 2,000 loyal men and sent them to Puebla under the instruction of Zaragoza, while the French outnumbered them with 6,000 military men. France’s goal was to attack the busy Mexico City, but they were halted early by Zaragoza in Puebla. The battle lasted from daybreak to early morning, when the French retreated. About 500 French soldiers were lost, but fewer than 100 mexicans were lost. Obviously, it was a clear and quite unexpected win for the Mexican army.

Unexpected Defeat

Mexico’s win was not necessarily strategic against the french, but Zaragoza’s success at the Battle of Puebla had victorious symbolism. In the long run it boosted the Mexican government and supported/expanded the resistance movement.Thanks to the military support and political pressure from the United States, who was finally in aid to support its neighbor after the Civil War, France withdrew finally in 1867. Later on that year, Austrian Archduke, who had been appointed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon, was found and executed by Juarez’s military. In some way, it was as if Mexico was trying to eliminate any remains of France within them. In the end, California was at an advantage because they were at the point of being conquered by the Confederacy. The French had planned to conquer California and the southern states along the Mexican border. With the success of the Battle of Puebla California was untouched and remained a free state from the Confederacy. This is the reason why Mexico is connected with the Civil War, because it avoided the aid that the French wanted to give to the Confederacy. They practically fought together with one goal in mind which was to fight for democracy.

Celebration in Mexico

Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo celebrations are experienced most in Puebla, where the event actually took place. Other neighboring states are known to celebrate but it does not carry as much importance as it does for the Puebla inhabitants. We can infer that California especially has reason behind celebrating this holiday as it did impact them greatly in the long run. Usual traditions consist of military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla, or simply a day to have mouthwatering Mexican food. In the reenactment of the war some locals dress as Mexican and French soldiers, and once the “Mexican army” wins the celebration begins with food and dancing. However, for some Mexicans May 5 is a day like any other. It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks and stores remain open.

Celebration in the United States

For the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas that are dense with substantial Mexican American populations. Other aspects of the day center around traditional symbols of Mexican life, such as the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Mexican-Americans who achieved fame, fortune and influence in the United States.Over the years the importance of this holiday has penetrated and increased greatly in the US and is known to mostly be celebrated in LA, Chicago, and Houston. In these cities, a large proportion of the population has Mexican origins. Many people hang up banners and school districts organize lessons and events to educate their students about the culture of Americans of Mexican descent. In some areas, celebrations of regional Mexican music and dancing are held. In the US, some people have used this holiday as a way to promote their commerce by using this time to sell beer and food.

Fiesta Broadway in LA

Los Angeles is known to house one of the biggest and famous Cinco de Mayo celebrations, even larger than Puebla. This shows how the Mexican influence has traveled widely and influenced many parts of the US, even while being a Mexican tradition. The first Fiesta Broadway event was held in 1990 and continues to this day, despite its drop in popularity. Obviously, it is still unquestionable that it is the biggest Cinco de Mayo Celebration in the entire world. During its first years, it captured the attention of half a million people, so it was not surprising to notice that the participants took more than a dozen square blocks in Downtown LA.

When the event was still at its highest popularity, you would notice three stages staggered all over the festival and in between them, people could enjoy plenty of games, fun and delicious food. The good thing about most of the activities held there is that these are for the entire family and all ages. They also highlight the cultures of both Latin Americans and Mexicans. The blend in cultures is clearly resembled in this exciting and yearly experience for many locals to California.

Confusing Aspects Regarding this Holiday

First of all, the holiday of Cinco de Mayo is not the same thing as Independence Day! They are completely different points in history that should not be combined. Cinco de Mayo was the Battle of Puebla while Mexico’s Independence Day celebrates the cry of Miguel Hidalgo. We can also consider that Mexico’s Independence took place about fifty years before the Battle of Puebla, so the difference should be pretty clear. Now that this holiday has expanded, some people take advantage of this day as an excuse to drink. The meaning and significance of this day has diminished and is now seen as a Mexican day to drink margaritas. It’s not only drinks that have robbed this holiday from its meaning but also the food! Debatably, mexican food is considered the tastiest in the world, but that doesn’t mean we only look forward to the food. The famous dish in Puebla that is served on Cinco de Mayo is mole, which is a generic name for sauces. It is usually made with some sort of chili as the base, and particularly the mole poblano has up to twenty ingredients! This is a signature food for this certain holiday, and although the food is great we should never forget what we celebrate that day.

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday, not an American holiday, but an American-Mexican holiday. They worked together in a way that brought success to both.

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