It’s Cinco de Mayo! Time to sip margaritas, down coronas, and drink tequila out of people’s belly buttons, or not… either way it’s the third biggest party day of the year after New Year’s and St. Patty’s Day, but do you know what Cinco De Mayo is really all about? If your guess is Mexican Independence day, no tacos for you. Mexican Independence was actually declared over fifty years before the events that inspired the Cinco De Mayo holiday and is celebrated on September 16th. So what does the 5th of May celebrate than? Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. What’s the big deal about this battle you ask? Well, to explain that we need a quick history lesson.
In 1861 a guy named Juárez became president of Mexico, and just like in today’s fun economic times, he was asked to account for the crazy debt the country had racked up before him. Spain and Great Britain played let’s make a deal with Mexico, but France was like that debt collector that keeps mailing you notices despite the fact that they are spending more money on paper and postage than the actually $7.22 remaning balance you keep forgetting to pay. Napoleon III decided to play repo man and take a chunk of country in return for the debt, starting the Franco-Mexican War in 1861. The French were able to force Juárez and his supporters into retreat and that brings us to Cinco de Mayo, give or take a bunch of historical info.
On May 5, 1862, six thousand trained and armed French soldiers attached Puebla, where President Juárez had rounded up a mere two thousand men under General Ignacio Zaragoza, to meet their charge. Somehow the outnumbered Mexican force was able to fend off the French David and Goliath style and won the battle. The Franco-Mexican War lasted another six years, but the Battle of Puebla symbolized an important triumph for the Mexico and Cinco de Mayo became day to be remembered in celebrated.
interestingly enough, Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico and is mainly celebrated in the State of Puebla where the battle occurred. The holiday has taken on a life of its own in the United States where it is much more widely celebrated (even though most of us have no clue why we’re tomando mucha cerveza!) Just like with St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo has morphed into more of a celebration of culture and heritage than of its actual origin in its export to the United States, but that’s ok with me because I’ll take any excuse to wear a sombrero and listen to mariachi.
So while you’re sucking on limes and crooning la cucaracha tonight, raise a glass in honor of the fearless men who outnumber and out armed fought fearlessly for their nation, and remember to stand at least ten feet away from the piñata.