After all the excesses of Santana’s dictatorship and Mexico’s Reform War (1857–1861), Mexico was bankrupt.
Happy about being elected but surely a little pissed about being broke, President Benito Juárez made it clear to his debtors that Mexico unable to pay its debts — especially to those far-away creditor countries of Europe. Really, what were they going to do, jump on a ship and come a’knocking.
Well, yes. That’s exactly what they did.
In 1862 the armies of Spain, England and France landed in Veracruz on a mission to collect on their loans. After negotiating with Mexican representatives, however, cooler heads prevailed and Spain and England withdrew their armies.
Napoleon III , Emperor of the Second French Empire, was not so easily appeased.
He and France had other ideas… like establishing a monarchy on Mexican soil that was favorable to France and even dissolving the Mexican constitutional government. To that end, 5,000 to 7,000 French soldiers under the command of General Lorencez’s descended upon Mexico looking for a fight.
President Juarez instructed General Ignacio Zaragoza (pictured, top) to block the advance of the French forces in the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe near the city of Puebla.
On May 5, Cinco de Mayo, 1862, the gunfire began. Zaragoza and only 2,000 troops met Lorencez’s army in the battlefield. From dawn till dusk, guns blared. When the smoke of battle settled, 1,000 French soldiers were killed while fewer than 500 of Mexican soldiers lost their lives.
And although the Mexicans had won the battle on Cinco de Mayo, the war was not yet won. Still, the Battle of Puebla symbolized a moral victory for Mexico against a better outfitted, better armed, better trained adversary.
Meanwhile, Louis Bonaparte, the ambitious — some might say greedy — nephew of Napoleon I (the one everyone knows), got together with allied Mexican conservatives like Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia to impose a European king in the country. By June 1864, Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg (pictured, left) was named monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, arrived in Mexico City to take his crown .
Republicans, led by Benito Juárez, rejected the foreign intervention and they took refuge in the north of Mexico, relying on Californians and other Mexican-Americans for help from with funding and volunteer soldiers.
The United States, now at the end of its civil war, pressured France to withdraw and by 1867, French forces were gone from Mexico. Maximilian, the false monarch that he was, was now helpless, and had to turn to his former conservative allies, Miramon and Mejia, but it was too late. They were defeated in Queretaro and all three were dragged up the hill to be executed in the Hill of Bells. Mexico would not then, not ever, give up.
Surprisingly, Cinco De Mayo is more popular in the United States than it is in Mexico, but what’s bonkers is most of the US population erroneously believe Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence day!
Nonetheless, if there’s one thing we know about Cinco de Mayo it’s massive parties, parades and the not-so-
historically related binge on queso and margaritas.
If you end up in Mexico for Cinco De Mayo, the next day you will find yourself emancipated from a hangover from hades — you would swear it was an ex with a hex on you. That’s because the holiday is not as heavily celebrated in Mexico as it is in the US. Unless you’re in the State of Puebla — one of the few regions that have festivities for Cinco De Mayo.
Usually the day is observed with theatrical re-enactments of the battle and political speeches.The “real” party is saved for September 16 Which is Mexico’s Independence Day.
The largest celebration of Cinco De Mayo resides in Los Angeles. Imagine a hybrid of Cancun à la Spring break with Brazil’s Carnaval and you get it. OK, so you may not see drunken students helplessly crawling on the streets with a bottle of corona as their lifeline in the midst of a parade with scantily clad women — If thats what you’re thinking. But you will see a large crowd having a good time with all the flair of mexican traditions, culture and costumes. A lot of margaritas will be consumed and we all know margaritas can lead to dancing.
What makes this holiday special is the Mexican culture that is brought to the limelight on this day. You can expect people wearing Mexican hats, women dressed in traditional Mexican dresses, mariachi bands playing, tequila, traditional Mexican foods — and queso, lots of queso.
It’s family-oriented and a guaranteed good time. You can pretty much conclude Cinco De Mayo is a big deal in the US. Luckily, El Jalisco is in the States, and we know how to party Mexico style.
Mexico has come a long way, from the heated standoff in the mid 1800s, and in remembrance of the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th we celebrate. So this year, as you go out to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, remember what this day stands for: drink for the lost souls, dance for the heros and eat for the cause.