Why Do We Celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

BattleofPuebla2

Good evening everyone! It’s Cinco de Mayo 2016 (as of writing this), so I’m sure you’re out at bars, at friends houses, or filling your gut with cheap drink and vaguely “Mexican” food. Or maybe not. I don’t know your life! Anyway, like I said in my first post I would talk about history, so what better opportunity than to shower you with knowledge on a holiday that most people celebrate without realizing why they’re celebrating it? I’ll keep it short though, I promise, since you may very well be reading this tomorrow through a hangover daze caused by copious amounts of half-off margaritas and processed salso and queso.

The date is May 5, 1862. The invading French forces of Napoleon III and Mexican military forces meet at the town of Puebla and engage in battle, a battle that ends with a Mexican victory. 154 years later the Mexican victory is celebrated all over the United States, and…not Mexico. Now, don’t get me wrong Dear Reader, it’s still an important holiday in Mexico because it represents the nation’s ability to hold off an imperialist invasion and it helped instill in Mexicans a sense of national pride and identity. But outside of Puebla, Mexico the holiday holds relatively little bearing. It is not Mexican Independence Day (that would be September 16), and the United States had relatively little to do with the conflict between Mexico and France, so why the hell do we celebrate the holiday in America? Well, other than the fact that we Americans love any occasion to throw a party filled with food and alcohol (and you gotta admit, we do. cough St. Patrick’s Day cough) it is also a major event in the good ol’ U. S. of A. for two reasons: immigration and the Civil War. So grab your Corona (or margarita if you want something a little harder), your tacky party sombrero, and a bowl of chips and salsa and let me explain why you Dear Reader, are probably celebrating Cinco De Mayo.

In case you need a little refresher, in 1862 the American Civil War was on like Donkey Kong, and the Confederacy was actually doing…fairly well in terms of military victories. They were also making inroads into what is now the American southwest. In case you forgot (and Trump has probably not let you forget) Mexico is directly south of that region. By 1862, due to some international economic shenanigans, France had decided to invade Mexico and establish a puppet regime in the country. Mexico was not exactly thrilled with this idea and decided to fight back. Now, side note, France sided with the Confederacy (due to cotton, because clothes are like, way, way more important than human rights) and having a client state of France that was within spitting distance of the CSA would not have been great for the Union, and by extension anyone who’s skin is not neon white. Fortunately for all of us (sorry the South, but you guys kinda had to lose), the Mexican forces at Puebla won which marked a turning point in the French occupation of Mexico and it actually prompted Latinos in the United States to join the Union Army and fight in the Civil War. Long story short (or Tl;dr for all of you hip with the internet lingo): the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 helped the Union win the Civil War. Which is a pretty big deal. Now, fast forward a century and you have the Chicano Movement in the United States. The Chicano Movement rediscovered Cinco de Mayo and began to celebrate it in the U.S. as a way to embrace their ethnic pride. Naturally, restaurant and alcohol companies saw this as a jumping off point to market to Hispanic consumers (because why wouldn’t they?) and the trend spread. Now for all of us who are not Hispanic we can celebrate the holiday without having any clue about the historic significance of it.

In a sort of bizarre way though, Cinco de Mayo is American at least to the extent that we incorporated a foreign holiday as one of our own, and celebrate it with more gusto than the original nation, and it seems that, for better or for worse, that is part of the “Melting Pot” idea. So do indeed celebrate this holiday! Celebrate the triumph over an imperialist, interventionist power (and yes, I do realize the irony in saying that as an American), celebrate a military victory that helped stop the Confederacy and thus secure the end of slavery, and celebrate the contributions of Hispanic citizens in this country! So eat, drink, and be informed.

As always, leave a comment if you have something to say, and feel free to follow me on Twitter or connect with me on Facebook. Thanks for reading, I promise my next post will actually be about my own writing, and of course, happy Cinco de Mayo!

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