In Harlingen, Texas, the commemoration of Cinco de Mayo and The Battle of Puebla is commonly associate with indulging in tacos, beer, and margaritas. However, what is the true significance behind this celebration? As a Texan, before you partake in happy hour on this day, it is important to understand the history behind it.
What is the significance of Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo celebrated in remembrance of Mexico’s triumph over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. During this battle, Mexican President Benito Juárez entrusted General Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza, who hailed from Texas, to defend the city of Puebla from French invasion. The conflict arose in 1861 when Juárez suspended Mexico’s foreign debt payments. In response, Napoleon III dispatched 5,000 elite French troops to invade Mexico with the intention of turning it into a French colony.
Out of the troops fighting on the Mexican side in the Battle of Puebla, 500 were Tejanos. Despite the European forces being much more formidable, the Mexican victory proved to be an unexpected one. This triumph filled the nation with pride and became an important symbol of national patriotism. It also provided the French and the rest of the world a glimpse into the Mexican national character, which had been misjudged and underestimated by the European powers. After the victory, Juárez held control of Mexico’s central valleys for more than a year, which had long-lasting damaging effects on the dream of the French empire.
Many Americans often mistake Cinco de Mayo as Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16.
How is this important to the U.S.?
However, the significance of this day extends beyond Mexican history and affects the United States as well. During the Battle of Puebla, the Mexican government was align with the Union during the American Civil War. If the French had won this battle, it could have resulted in a French emperor residing in Mexico City who may have allied with the Confederacy. This, in turn, could have altered the dynamics of the Civil War.
How to Celebrate
The state of Puebla celebrates the victory annually with good food, parades, mariachis, and other festivities since the triumph in 1862. For the state, this holiday is a celebration of pride in the Mexican army’s abilities during a time when Europe was dominant. In the late 20th century, beer companies such as Corona and Mezcal commercialized Cinco de Mayo as a marketing tactic. Nowadays, many people celebrate this day as a response to the commercialization of Latino culture in the United States by going to happy hours and enjoying chips and queso. However, there is a greater, richer history underlying this holiday that can explored beyond the surface.