Tomorrow, many Americans will eat tacos and enchiladas and drink margaritas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Typically, most Americans have no idea of the significance of the holiday. They may assume that it is some religious festival or has something to do with Mexico’s independence from Spain. That would be wrong and wrong.
Back in 1861 France invaded Mexico. Napoleon III, the ruler of France at the time, correctly perceived that Mexico was “ripe for the picking.” The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 had virtually bankrupted the country. The US was distracted by its impending Civil War and thus, unable to oppose France in Mexico. The other European powers, notably Spain and England, were not in the picture.
At first, the French, with their superior numbers, equipment and training, routed the Mexicans, but on May 5, 1862 the Mexicans surprisingly defeated the French decisively in a major battle near Puebla, halting their advance. The Civil War ended in 1865, and, thereafter, the US was able to assist Mexico. Eventually, the French needed their military assets at home to prepare to fight the Prussians [in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)], so they abandoned their plans to conquer Mexico and withdrew.
The battle at Puebla was significant for several reasons:
1. Though largely symbolic, this victory gave the Mexicans a much-needed infusion of patriotism and national pride.
2. Since then, no country in the Americas has been invaded successfully by a European country.
3. Most importantly for the US, many historians believe that France’s ultimate goal was to enable the South to break away from the North. Mexico could have been used as a military base from which France could have funneled men and equipment to the Confederacy. If they had not been defeated at Puebla, who knows how far north their army would have pushed and who knows what military and political pressure they would have brought to bear against the US. Consequently, it can be posited that that victory helped preserve the Union.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated not only in Mexico, but also in many other countries. Cities in the US, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Japan hold festivals featuring Mexican music, food and drink and celebrating Mexican culture. Technically, Cinco de Mayo, though recognized as a day of celebration throughout Mexico, is not a national holiday, although it is a holiday in the State of Puebla. Throughout the country, the public schools are closed and many towns hold parades or re-enactments of the battle of Puebla. It should be noted that Cinco de Mayo is NOT to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16.
In another example of PC overreach, this year the University of New Hampshire has decided to call May 5 “Unity Day” instead of Cinco de Mayo. Why? Apparently, last year “some members of the Latino community” were “offended” when some students wore sombreros and ponchos. They viewed that as “cultural appropriation.” Well, boo hoo! It’s not as if they painted offensive sayings or mocking cartoons. Those actions did not rise to the level of, say, anti-Semitic scribblings on walls or fire-bombing synagogues. THOSE are offensive, or worse. Wearing sombreros and ponchos merely strikes me as students getting into the holiday spirit, not being mean-spirited. Besides, I would wager that one could count the numbers of protestors on one hand.
Once again, we are all being subjected to the tyranny of the vocal minority. I have to say that when I was in college if the administration came out with an inane suggestion like that, a bunch of us would have made sure to parade through the campus wearing sombreros and ponchos dancing the Mexican hat dance. Times have sure changed, and not for the better.
Someone should inform these protestors and the university’s administrators, for that matter, that Cinco de Mayo is a great source of pride for people of Mexican descent, as well it should be. It commemorates a significant military victory over a better-equipped, numerically superior force. As denoted above, the victory held historical significance not only for Mexico but for the US as well. In my opinion, if the administration wants to hold a “Unity Day” to foster better race and cultural relations, fine, but do it on some random day.
So, tomorrow, when you raise a glass of Tequila or dig into an order of guacamole give a toast to the brave men of Puebla. And, if you want to wear a sombrero or a poncho, by all means, do so.