Authored by: Gina Percival, Public Relations Coordinator at Salt Lake County Youth Services
This Friday will mark the 155th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, a bicultural celebration that has become the perfect excuse to enjoy Mexican food. But Cinco de Mayo, is much more than having a good time. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the of Napoleon III at Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragosa.
The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people. As TIME magazine remarked, “The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath. It helped establish a much-needed sense of national unity and patriotism. ”
The Battle of Puebla battle was significant in that the 4,000 Mexican soldiers were greatly outnumbered by the well-equipped French army of 8,000 that had not been defeated for almost 50 years. Second, since the Battle of Puebla, no country in the Americas has subsequently been invaded by any other European military force.
Since most of the people don’t know the real story behind this holiday, here are some facts that will probably surprise you about Cinco de Mayo:
1. It’s not Mexico’s Independence Day: The Battle of Puebla occurred 50 years after Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16.
Raul Ramos, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston, explained that “The significance of Cinco de Mayo is that it represents Mexican resistance to foreign intervention, it is a moment where Mexico as a young nation rallied to defend itself. But it was not a struggle for independence. Instead it represented a struggle against imperialism.”
2. Cinco de Mayo commemorates a military victory over France — not Spain. Why was Mexico at war with France? Because the Mexican government had defaulted on its foreign debt to several European countries. Napoleon III hoped to install a monarchy in Mexico.
3. Cinco de Mayo is a bigger celebration in the U.S. than in Mexico.Professor Margarita Sánchez from Wagner College said “recent Mexican immigrants are often surprised at what a huge thing Cinco de Mayo has become here.They do celebrate the holiday in Mexico, but it is only a big deal in Puebla.”
4. The hero of the original Cinco de Mayo was a Texan. General Ignacio Zaragosa, who led the ragtag Mexican forces to victory over the superior French army, was born near what is now Goliad, Texas.
Today, the commemoration of the battle is not observed as a national statutory holiday in Mexico. However, all public schools are closed nationwide in Mexico on May 5. The day is an official holiday in the State of Puebla, where the Battle took place, and also a full holiday in the neighboring State of Veracruz.