Sunday, May 6, 2012


An advertisement blared on Dallas, Texas TV this morning, Come celebrate Cinco de Mayo this Sunday, the sixth of May! Authentic food, bands… and so it went on and on ad nauseam.  One of my valued and very distinguished historian Friends of Mexican origins is somewhat amused at the type of attention paid to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.  Mind you, he embraces it as a critical and revered part of the history of Mexico, but concerned since so many have no clue what the date represents or are under the false impression that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the independence of Mexico much like our Fourth of July.  Alas – no es verdad.
Now while we understand that folks like to party hearty at the drop of a hat and for whatever reason, (I do like a good margarita) let’s set the record straight.  We have no excuse but to embrace the truth of that date since most local TV, the Internet, social media and that final bastion of print journalism, the newspaper, are all finally trying to properly educate us. Correctly informed we will still have yet another occasion to celebrate – aye, the victory of liberty over tyranny. That date represents an event and the lynchpin experience that helped establish and foment in Mexico a crucial sense of national unity and patriotism, which despite all odds, allowed for their ultimate victory. Now, that’s powerful karma.
Truth: Cinco de Mayo commemorates the first Battle of Puebla in 1862 when a much smaller, though highly inspired and heavily fortified Mexican army defeated well-equipped and better trained French troops – perhaps part of one of the best armies in the world at the time.  What most will not tell you is that the Mexican army lost the critical Second Battle of Puebla on May 17, 1863.  The French eventually marched on to Mexico City sending the mostly progressive regime of Benito Juarez into exile.  The French installed Austria’s Maximilian as Emperor in 1964.  The war continued, though, and Maximilian’s run would only be until 1867 when he was executed for his indiscretions. Truth be known the fiasco known as the Second Mexican Empire really wasn’t his fault as much of the Mexican aristocracy supported the French invasion and the establishment of a monarchy.

Critical to this Mexican victory was the intervention of the United States. Once they resolved their regional unpleasantness (aka The Civil War) the US turned their attention to Mexico supporting the exiled regime of Benito Juarez.  The US sent 50,000 troops to the Rio Grande, demanded that the French withdraw their forces from Mexico, threatened to invade Mexico if they didn’t, supported the Republican Army of Benito Juarez and set up a naval blockade to prevent French reinforcements from landing.  Bottom line: While The French may have won early on the hostilities continued to 1867 when they were ultimately driven from Mexico and Maximilian was executed.

And what was the French aggression all about?  Money, of course. The Mexican government had defaulted on debts owed the French government (and other nations) with Napoleon III using that as a ruse to invade Mexico in an attempt to set a wedge against the Americans who were occupied with their own Civil War, to increase trade in the Americas and to dig for Mexican silver.

No doubt, the French defeat at First Puebla was the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back as relates to the French intent and capacity to provision, resupply and ultimately support the Confederate States of America.  Historians now agree that First Puebla put the French off schedule for at least at year dooming the Confederate Cause. Yes, the Mexicans not only took their nation back, but influenced (aye, choreographed) the outcome of the U.S. Civil War and who we are as a nation today.  

And Mexican Independence? Unlike Cinco de Mayo this is a national holiday celebrated on September 16 and commemorates the declaration of independence (El Grito de Dolores) marking the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain in 1810.  Mexico ultimately threw off the shackles of Spain on September 27, 1821 and took their place among the community of nations.

Cinco de Mayo has become yet another economic opportunity, a highly commercialized event that ranks with other cultural celebrations like Oktoberfest.  Despite that, the day and event have seemingly transcended its original meaning and become a celebration of heritage and culture and that’s OK.  Let’s have a good time, aye, party hearty and use Cinco de Mayo as the catalyst to appreciate the cause of freedom and stimulate an appreciation and tolerance for all the diverse cultures in our midst.  That’s who we are and if you haven’t noticed lately, we are just one among the many.


Ned Buxton

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