Everyone knows what May 5, or Cinco De Mayo, means: tacos, margaritas, fun and fiesta. But did you know that without what happened on this fateful day, the United States may have not existed as we know it today? What exactly happened on this day of seemingly endless partying and celebration? Let’s take a deep dive in Mexican-American history!
History of Cinco de Mayo
Let’s start by clearing the biggest misconception: No, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Independence Day. But, that does not mean it’s less important or notable than it actually is, for the history behind it dawns on the importance of the landscape of North America as a whole.
An economically-struggling Mexico was intervened by the French for the second time, who had the hopes to gain control of the Latin American country under the rule of Napoleon III. The French General, Charles de Lorencez, directed his army towards the capital of Mexico City, with the intent to overthrow the president of Mexico, Benito Juarez.
But things didn’t go as planned, as they encountered heavy resistance, culminating at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Even if their forces had half the numbers of their opponents, the Mexican Army, led by Ignacio Zaragoza, managed to successfully win over the French army at Puebla, a city just 70 miles from Mexico City. Four days later, on May 9, Juárez declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday.
While the battle in itself was not a major strategic win, and the French took control of Mexico in 1864, it served to lift the spirits of resistance forces, and helped them to gain an alliance with the Americans to successfully make Napoleon’s forces withdraw. Since it is believed the French would have likely aided the Confederacy at the Civil War, Mexico’s resistance likely changed the history of the United States.
Pro-Union Mexican citizens in the state of California heavily celebrated the victory at the Battle of Puebla viewing it as a victory for the Union’s cause, later formalizing and spreading the annual celebrations across all of California, and Mexican-Americans all around.