Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why the United States Should Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Judging by some of the comments I have seen being left on a FB page about who does/does not celebrate Cince de Mayo and why, I realized that many don't truly understand the significance of this day.

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 2,000 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.

General Zaragoza
So in an attempt to begin rebuilding the country, Presidente Benito Juárez issued a two-year moratorium on all foreign debts (he planned to resume payments to the foreign lenders in 1863). But naturally France, Britain, and Spain, did not look too kindly on this and they each sent troops over to Veracruz to demand their money. Juárez negotiated with Britain and Spain, but the French forces forced Juárez and the government to flee. They then began their march towards Mexico City, but encountered a small army in Puebla under the direction of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.

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.

The U.S. Civil War Connection

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?

Printable Cinco de Mayo Resources for Kids

If you'd like to teach this to your students or children, be sure to check out my printable resources on TpT!


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