The History Of Cinco De Mayo

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  1. The Spanish words Cinco de Mayo mean May 5th. This day is celebrated in parts of Mexico, USA and other places where large numbers of Mexicans reside. It is sometimes mistaken as Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually September 16th. This day commemorates the battle of Puebla, in which Mexico won a surprise victory over the superior French forces. This took place in 1862.
  2. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was followed by the Mexican Civil War in 1858. The country was going through a financial crisis and was unable to pay the debts it owed to Britain, Spain and France. According to the international law of the time, creditor nations resorted to military intervention in case of default and troops from all three countries invaded Mexico in 1861. President Juarez convinced the Spanish and British envoys that yet another war would cripple Mexico financially. Britain and Spain then withdrew in 1862.
  3. France was ruled by Napolean III who wanted to expand his empire. He planned to invade Mexico and set up his Austrian ally as ruler. The French were supported by a number of wealthy Mexican land owners. They convinced the French military leaders that the Mexican people would welcome them. Accordingly, the French troops set off towards Mexico City. As they neared Puebla, they met with resistance from Mexican forces led by General Zargosa.
  4. What followed is known as the Battle of Puebla. The French, led by General Laurencez, attacked the Mexican positions backed by artillery. The French were repulsed twice and by the third attack, they ran out of artillery. General Zargosa sent his cavalry after them and the French retreated. The cavalry attack was led by General Porfirio Diaz. General Zargosa triumphantly informed President Juarez that his soldiers had covered themselves in glory.
  5. The Battle of Puebla served to invigorate the Mexican Army and raise the morale of the Mexican people because the resulting victory was quite unexpected. The French Army was a formidable fighting machine and General Laurencez commanded 6000 men. They were also better equipped than the Mexicans who numbered about 4500. The French suffered many more casualties. It is estimated that about 460 French soldiers were killed compared to less than a hundred Mexican lives lost.
  6. This euphoric victory was short lived. Just about a year later, the French gathered together about 30,000 men and captured Mexico City. Maximillian I, an Austrian, was installed as Mexico’s emperor. By this time, the US government, previously engaged with its own civil war, began to assist the Mexican nationalists. The US government frowned on French presence in its backyard. Firstly, this was against the Monroe Doctrine which did not want Europe to colonise the Americas. Secondly, the French had sympathised with the Confederate South during the American Civil War. This was one of the reasons that Napolean III withdrew from Mexico in 1866. The Mexicans re- captured Mexico City in 1867 and executed Maximillian. President Juarez took up the reins of administration and re-instated the government.
  7. General Porfirio Diaz, who led the cavalry charge at Puebla became famous and powerful. He became president in 1876, and held on to power for 35 years until he was deposed in1911.
  8. Cinco de Mayo is significant for another reason. Historians have suggested that if the French had won the Battle of Puebla, they would have surely helped the Confederates against Abraham Lincoln. This may have had disastrous effects on the move to abolish slavery.
  9. Though the Battle of Puebla is an important event in Mexican history, May 5th is celebrated with more fervour across the border in USA. The biggest celebration takes place in Los Angeles. Events are held in other places like Vancouver, Canada and even in Australia.
  10.  Mexican food and drinks are abundant at Cinco de Mayo festivals. Favourites include tortillas, guacamole and margaritas. Mariachi bands are in attendance and colourful Mexican clothes are on display. Parades and concerts are a regular feature in the week leading up to May 5th .

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