Cinco de Mayo (May 5th)
This holiday celebrates the victory of the Mexican Army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza against French forces in the city of Puebla, on May 5, 1862.
RIght: Image of Ignacio Zaragoza on a 500 pesos Mexico banknote – 2008 – Photo: Joseph A. Tyson
Also widely celebrated in the United States. US “celebration” of this Mexican historical event is largely a result of promotions in the US by liquor, beer, and bars/taverns/clubs/restaurants since the 1980s. For many years Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the US promoted Cinco de Mayo as Mexican Independence Day which is actually September 16. Although Mexican citizens feel very proud of the meaning of Cinco de Mayo, it is not a national holiday in Mexico, but it is an official holiday in the State of Puebla where the mentioned battle took place.
The battle at Puebla in 1862 happened at a violent and chaotic time in Mexico’s history. Mexico had finally gained independence from Spain in 1821 after a difficult and bloody struggle, and a number of internal political takeovers and wars, including the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Mexican Civil War of 1858, had ruined the national economy.
During this period of struggle Mexico had accumulated heavy debts to several nations, including Spain, England and France, who were demanding repayment. Similar debt to the U.S. was previously settled after the Mexican-American War. France was eager to expand its empire at that time, and used the debt issue to move forward with goals of establishing its own leadership in Mexico. Realizing France’s intent of empire expansion, Spain and England withdrew their support. When Mexico finally stopped making any loan payments, France took action on its own to install Napoleon III’s relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.
Photo on right: Old engraved portrait of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, then Emperor of Mexico. Created by Schubert, published un L’Illustration Journal Universel, Paris, 1857