Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
Most people think that Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated in Mexico, but truth is it's more of a US celebration.
The celebration actually commemorates the overthrow of the Monarchy headed by Maximilian of Austria. The Imperial Monarchy was imposed on Mexico from 1864 to 1867 by Napoleon III, Emperor of France and nephew of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte.
It all goes back to 1858, when Benito Juárez was elected President of the "United States of Mexico" and he promised to defend the Mexican Constitution established on February 5th, 1857.
After much internal struggle, Juárez was re-elected in 1861. Because of financial instability, due to the Mexican-American war, the Mexican Congress suspended all foreign debt repayment for two years which really infuriated their creditors.
The main and largest creditors were England, Spain and France and together they decided they needed to intervene in order to collect their debts. France, however had it's own agenda.
The French wanted to dispose of the Mexican Constitutional Government and decided they were going to set up a French monarchy. Napoleon III, (Emperor of the Second French Empire) actually had huge plans for all of the Americas.
He planned to occupy and impose a monarchical government upon all the nations throughout Central and South America. His plan was to have all these countries provide raw materials and business trade for the European nations.
He also was worried about the United States Republic to the north and wanted to keep them in check following the US Republic's annexation of California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
On December 8th, 1861 via the Gulf of Mexico the three European powers landed in Mexico and quickly occupied the port city of Veracruz. The Spanish armada was the first to arrive.
Although in less then four months they realized France's intent, and England and Spain withdrew their troops and sailed back to Europe.
Meanwhile, in Mexico City, President Juárez (a full blooded Zapotec Indian, and a lawyer who had once studied to become a priest), declared martial law and declared all areas occupied by the French in a state of siege. The Mexican army fought many small battles against the French occupiers.
Reinforcements soon began arriving, and a French force of seven thousand troops set out on the 225 mile route from Veracruz to Mexico City under the illusion that the Mexican people would somehow welcome them. This illusion was fostered by Juan Almonte, a Mexican reactionary and by Count Dubois du Saligny appointed French Ambassador to Mexico by Napoleon.
President Juárez commanded General Ignacio Zaragoza to block the advance of the French Army. He prepared an ill equiped rag tag army of 2,000 soldiers on the hills of the villages of Loreto and Guadalupe close to the town of Puebla.
On May 5th, 1862, cannons boomed and rifle shots rang out as the French soldiers attacked the two tiny forts. Yet before the day was over, one fort was in ruins but more than a thousand French soldiers were dead. The Mexicans had won the battle, but not the war. This date however; was remembered symbolically for the Mexicans' courage against a formidable French army.
Soon after more French troops arrived, totalling 15,000 in number and in June 1864, Maximilian of Habsburg Austria along with his wife Charlotte arrived in Mexico City as the crowned Emperors of the newly formed Mexican Empire. The people of the republic or republicans as they called themseves, led by Benito Juárez, refused to accept the foreign intervention.
They traveled north, first to Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua (on the border with El Paso, Texas) and then on to New Orleans and requested assistance from the Californians and supportive Mexican-American societies to help them with volunteers and financial support.
American President Abraham Lincoln had supported the republicans under Juárez, with weapons and allowed volunteers to go Mexico. In addition immediately after the end of the American Civil War, in 1865, General Philip Sheridan, assembled 50,000 troops, and dispatched them to the border between Mexico and the United States. There, his corps ran patrols to visibly threaten intervention against the French and also supplied weapons to Juárez's forces.
Maximilian and Napoleon III, nephew of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte and his army were finally overthrown. Maximilian and his wife Carlotta were tried by court martial and executed by firing squad on June 19,1867 at the Cerro de las Campanas in Mexico City. Executed that day for treason were his Mexican Generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía.
So Cinco de Mayo became a Mexican national holiday. The battlefield is now a park in Puebla with a statue of General Zaragoza riding on horseback.
It is a holiday that is mainly celebrated in Puebla, Mexico but it is here in the US where the celebration is much more festive… with local parades, music, folklore, dances and delicious Mexican food.
So if you go out for a margarita today – think of Cinco de Mayo, of Tomás and the rest of your brethren down south.
Make it a great Cinco de Mayo dia!