So for those of you who don't really know what all the hoopla is about, here is a brief history on Cinco de Mayo and why I, for one, celebrate this holiday.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is NOT the Mexican Independence Day. Instead, this holiday commemorates the victory of a small Mexican army (estimated to be around 4,000 soldiers) over the French forces, which were considered to be the best army in the world at the time. This is known as the Battle of Puebla, and it occurred on May 5th, 1862.
Let me give you a little bit of background information:
In 1861, Mexico's treasury (and government) was in shambles after years of wars: the Mexican-American War in 1846-48; the Mexican Civil War in 1858; and the 1860 Reform Wars.
At this time, Napoleon III (not Napoleon Bonaparte!) was the emperor of France and he saw this as an opportunity to establish a French empire in the Americas.
It is incredibly important that people understand that the U. S. Civil War was happening at the exact same time. Napoleon's plan was to spend a few months invading and conquering Mexico, and then use the country as a base for supplying the Confederate rebels with supplies and weapons to help them win the war.
Had the brave men and women of Puebla not decided to take a stand against such overwhelming odds - and won! - the outcome of the U. S. Civil War could have been drastically different. And it is for this reason alone, that I personally think that Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated in the United States.
Should it be celebrated in Mexico? Not really. Although this victory was a much needed morale booster for the people and government, Napoleon returned the following year with an army of 30,000 and captured Mexico City, establishing Emperor Maximiliano I as ruler. (You might remember him or his wife, Carlotta, to whom we owe a word of thanks for giving "birth," so to speak, to the tradition of cascarones!)
But his reign was short-lived as, incidentally, after the U.S. Civil War was over, the U.S. provided support to Mexico to expel the French. They were not stupid and had feared France's support of the Confederacy during the war. Afterwards, they were quick to help Mexico give them the boot!
I think that President Lincoln would have wholeheartedly celebrated Cinco de Mayo, don't you?
Con mucho cariño...