Remembering Cinco de Mayo
Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellmann's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico. But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost.
The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
The quick and easy answer: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, but the celebration of the victory of the Mexican Army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, over the French expeditionary forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
History of Cinco de Mayo and the US Connection
Cinco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. The victory was viewed as a symbol that demonstrated to the world that Mexico was willing to defend themselves of any foreign intervention. Especially those from imperialist states bent on world conquest.
Cinco de Mayo's history has its roots in the French Occupation of Mexico. The French occupation took shape in the aftermath of the Mexico-US War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850's. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. In 1861, the newly elected democratic President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium to suspend their debts for two years, with the promise to start making payments after that period.
The French, Spanish and English would have none of that, so they sent their troops to Mexico to collect their debts. The English and Spanish quickly made deals with Juarez and left. The French had other ideas. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III, who also detested the growing power in the US because Napoleon III believed that the US would eventually become a power in and of itself if left unchallenged. At that time the US had already entered into the American Civil War (1861–1865). Not may people realize, Napoleon III came very close to officially recognizing the Confederacy and was driven by a desire to keep the Union split. All through 1862, Napoleon III entertained Confederate diplomats, raising hopes that he would unilaterally recognize the Confederacy.
Also in 1862, Napoleon III began to advance by sending his army of the Second French Empire into Mexico. Napoleon III planed to seat Maximilian I, a Hapsburg prince, as Emperor of the new Mexican empire. The French Army had never lost a battle in 50 years, and with this belief they invaded Mexico. The French Army was equipment with modern weaponry and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion. Historians believe the French established the monarchy, especially since the US was already in its own Civil War.
Under the command of Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexicans awaited with 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians. On May 5, 1862, General Zaragoza beat back repeated French assaults and ended up defeating the French army in Puebla, which is now known as the "Batalla de Puebla."
General U.S. Grant told President Lincoln in 1865 that the Civil War would not have been over if the French continued to stay in Mexico. The 1962 Mexican victory did contribute to the Union victory in our Civil War. If not, Napoleon III would have continued to supply weapons to the Confederate Army, and American history would have been different.
The French defeat by Mexicans on the 5th of May kept the French from supplying the rebel Confederacy with massive cannonry and munitions. Superior Union numbers and soldiery combined with a lack of cannon and munitions to defeat the Confederate Army of General Robert E. Lee at the four-day July 1863 battle of Gettysburg. This Pennsylvania battle assured the total defeat of the Southern rebels and the continued existence of the United States of America.
Once the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln turned his attention and American resources to help Mexico throw out the French Army. He personally ordered General Sheridan to Texas to help the Mexicans.
Why Cino de Mayo Matters
"La batalla de Puebla" is not just a battle that took place in Mexico or how the battle helped the Union win. It was more than that, it is a victory of mestizos and Zapotecs against European conquistadors. Napoleon III like most Europeans at that time thought that mestizos and Indians were easy people to conquer against white imperialist Europeans.
Mexican philosopher and educator José Vasconcelos said that an epic drama is beginning to unfold in the Americas for the recognition that the indigenous people of the Americas and the Spanish were becoming "la raza cósmica"
Las circunstancias actuales favorecen, en consecuencia, el desarrollo de las relaciones sexuales internacionales, lo que presta apoyo inesperado a la tesis que, a falta de nombre mejor, titulé: de la Raza Cósmica futura.This also included other Europeans, Arabs, and Africans, todos somos primos, hence the expression "la raza de bronce", the bronze race.
The victory at Puebla does have specific meaning to me at least (I can only speak for myself). It is about the emerging mestizaje, the mixed peoples of the Americas, and the recognition that something historic and important happened in Puebla.
So this Mexican holiday not only memorializes a historical event, but a cultural emergence coupled with a history that has taken place in this hemisphere that makes us who we are. That's something we must not forget.
Given the recent immigration debates here in the US, now is the time when WE as Chicanos should value our traditions. With the uncertainty of the future, too much is at stake now. And now more than ever, we should stand together in solidarity and proudly say "Nosotros estamos aqui—don't count us out!"
With a heritage that continues to go unrecognized, it is critical para La Raza to continue to remember the identity of "I" in historical terms.