No, Cinco de Mayo Is Not Mexican Independence Day

by on May 5, 2020 · 0 comments

in History, San Diego

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Editor: The following is an excerpt from Brent Beltran’s weekly column Desde Logan at the San Diego Free Press in 2013. What follows is worth repeating as Gringos typically are kept in the dark about the history of a people a few dozen miles away.

By Brent E. Beltrán

Cinco de Mayo commemorates El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla) where in 1862 a ragtag Mexican army lead by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated a much superior and better equipped force of the French army. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. It’s not even a significant holiday in Mexico except in the state of Puebla where the battle took place.

After the great liberal Mexican president Benito Juarez decided to stop paying Mexico’s foreign debt for two years to help it’s near bankrupt national treasury France’s Napoleon III, pissed off by this move, decided to invade and build up it’s empire.

At the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe in Puebla state an 8,000 soldier strong French army, the best army in the world at the time, attacked the ill equipped Mexican army that numbered around 4,000. Somehow the Mexican army crushed it’s much larger counterpart giving the Mexican nation a huge morale boost.

Unfortunately, the victory did not last very long because within a year Napoleon’s 30,000 strong invading military defeated the entire Mexican army. This sent the Juarez government into hiding. Napoleon then installed Emperor Maximilian I to rule over Mexico.

But that only lasted from 1864-1867 as the remaining Mexican forces, with financial help from America once their Civil War was over, conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare that eventually unseated, captured and executed the wanna be emperor and his turncoat Mexican generals. On June 5, 1867 President Benito Juarez returned to Mexico City like a rock star.

The victory at Puebla has been celebrated in California since 1863 but really came into prominence in the 1940’s. It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s that Cinco de Mayo started crossing the US as Chicanos looked for a holiday to celebrate as their own. Defeating the invading European colonizers was reason enough.

It really took off in the 1980’s as corporations, especially beer companies, sought ways to sell their products to the burgeoning Mexican American community. Somehow, at some point, Cinco de Mayo started getting confused with Mexican Independence Day which is September 16 and celebrates the Mexican nation’s independence from Spain.

Cinco de Mayo is a relatively insignificant event in the annals of Mexican history. Día de la Independencia is much more important. So is Día de la Revolución Mexicana, November 20, which commemorates the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Yet somehow Cinco de Mayo has taken hold north of the Mexican border but not south.

Perhaps it’s easier for Americans to digest Mexican Americans celebrating an unimportant battle than it is to see us celebrating our independence or a revolution that was pretty much socialist in nature.

Regardless, Cinco de Mayo continues to be celebrated, though not quite honored, mostly by non-Mexican Americans and drunk college students throughout the United States. Like St. Patrick’s Day it is just another excuse for people to party and put more money into the coffers of alcohol companies. Hopefully, someday it will truly be honored and those that sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Mexican nation will earn the dignity they deserve.


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