Cinco De Mayo is more than 150 years old. It started as a celebration of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, and it gradually morphed into an all-day, all-night party. Today, it’s celebrated harder it the United States than just about anywhere.
The Battle of Puebla was improbably won by Mexico, even though France thought they were guaranteed a victory. 6,000 French troops under the command of General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set forth to attack Puebla de Los Angeles.
The small town in the middle of Mexico was under siege, and was protected by just 2,000 of Juarez’s men. Seems like a bit of a mismatch, eh? Regardless, the Mexicans were ready for the fight. Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza put the town on lock and key and readied his men for the French onslaught.
The encounter lasted from morning until night on May 5th. When it was all over, only 100 Mexican troops were lost, versus 500 French soldiers. Although this battle alone was not the nail in the coffin on the French insurgency, it was a massive symbolic win for Mexico and North America as a whole. Two years later, the French appointed emperor of Mexico, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, was captured and executed at the hands of Juarez’s forces.
The implications of the Mexican victory at Puebla may not have been known at the time, but in retrospect, they are massive for the United States. Because France had such a heavy stake in the American South, they would have undoubtedly come to the side of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
On May 9, 1962, President Juarez declared the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday called “Battle of Puebla Day.” Each year in Puebla, the town commemorates the occasion with parades and historical reenactments.
Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated around the world. In Brisbane, Australia, the day is celebrated through an annual Mexican Festival. Similar festivities take place in England, New Zealand, Paris, Cape Town, and Lagos, Nigeria.
But let’s call a spade a spade here. Like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo has become a drunken celebration under the guise of honoring another culture. It’s convenient to say we are expressing our love for all things Hispanic, but the reality is we are drinking tequila without even thinking of the Battle of Puebla. That’s a shame.