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Mexico-Cinco de Mayo is known around the world. It is often mistakenly thought to be Mexico’s independence day. (That national holiday is actually Sept. 16.) I,too, had made this same mistake until I saw this week’s Washington Spanish Language newspaper, El Tiempo Latino. Their lead article on Cinco de Mayo gave a detailed overview of its complicated history involving 4 nations ultimately. Here are the highpoints.
Mexico-Cinco de Mayo: Its Complex History:
The background: In the 1860’s, the US was embroiled in the Civil War. Across the border, Mexican hero Benito Juarez was President.
The French emperor Napoleon III took advantage of Mexican debt and sent troops into Mexico in 1861. On May 5, 1862 the French were beaten at the Battle of Puebla and six years later finally left Mexico.
It gets more complicated with 3 nationalities already involved. A fourth country was added to the mix in 1864. Maximilian, an Austrian archduke and Habsburg, arrived declaring himself emperor of Mexico. In 1867, he was executed ending his brief 3 year role in Mexican history.
The backstory is full of intrigue and political agendas during the US Civil War. Neighboring California was a free state. For some, there was a sense of relief to see the French defeat in Mexico. That prevented their building a strong local base to support the Confederacy. This complex history is less well known. However, it is part of the common bond between the US and Mexico.
Mexico-Cinco de Mayo: Popular Celebrations:
Surprisingly, it is more widely celebrated in the US. The celebrations started with Mexican-Americans in California during the Civil War rather than in Mexico. In fact, Puebla is the main site in Mexico for celebrating Cinco de Mayo. However, historic re-enactments also occurred in Mexico City last year. Wherever you are, take advantage of the Cinco de Mayo to celebrate this shared US-Mexican history.