I remember the Cinco de Mayo celebrations at my high school every year. They were so much fun. We made decorations, brought food from home and most importantly got out of class. Even though we were able to celebrate this day, we weren't told much about it. The most common myth about Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. Not true.
On May 5th, 1862, the Mexican army with only 4,000 soldiers defeated the better equipped French army of 8,000 at the Battle of Puebla. Under orders of Emperor Napoleon III, the French government sent along diplomats and armed soldiers under the pretext of collecting debts from Mexico. Keep in mind, Mexico was only beginning to recover from the Mexican Civil War of 1858. However, under the leadership of Archduke Maximillan of Austria, the force landed in Vera Cruz and made its way towards the Mexican capital – Mexico City.
Benito Juarez, President of Mexico, was taken by surprise but quickly assembled his troops under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin. Upon the approach of the French army towards Puebla, Zaragosa dispatched Colonel Porfirio Diaz to lead the cavalry to flank the approaching men. This was the first blunder of the day for the French. They sent their own cavalry to meet the Mexicans, who knew the land and were much better fighters on horseback. They slaughtered the French cavalry with little losses to their own men, but the French still forged ahead and decided to attack the city. That was their second mistake. The Mexican army sent large numbers of cattle stampeding around the city to make the grounds around the city (already wet by heavy rainfall) hard to walk on – especially when walking towards enemy defenders. The French was defeated.
Did this victory help Mexico win the war? Unfortunately not. Emperor Napoleon countered by sending 30,000 more troops into action and took control of Mexico. Maximilian ruled Mexico for the next four years.
The Mexican holiday garnered a big following in the United States after the Chicano student movement in the late 1960s. The holiday eventually was embraced by others in the southwest United States, then spread throughout the rest of the nation. Non-Mexican Americans often observe the holiday in much the same manner that non-Irish Americans observe St. Patrick’s Day, with holiday-themed parties.
¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Sources: HolidaySpotPlus.com and TheNewsTribune.com