Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on the 5th of May. ‘Cinco de Mayo’ means ‘Fifth of May’, and is the anniversary of the day that the Mexican Army defeated the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo is not to be mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day, which falls on 16 September each year and remembers the Cry of Dolores and marks Mexico’s independence from Spain.
The History Of Cinco de Mayo
The events leading up to Cinco de Mayo date back to long before the war. After both the 1846-48 Mexican-American War and the 1858-61 Reform War, the Mexican Treasury was nearly bankrupt and the Mexican President at that time, Benito Juárez called for a moratorium (the legal postponing of a payment by authorities) on 17 July 1861 to ensure all foreign debt would be suspended for two years, lending Mexico time to recover from the strife after the wars.
The countries to which Mexico was indebted, including Britain, France, and Spain, all sent naval forces to collect the payments. After negotiations, Mexico was able to reach an agreement with Britain and Spain, but Napoleon III, ruler of France at that time, saw an opportunity in Mexico’s weakness and sent a French fleet to launch an attack on Mexico to begin establishing a French empire within the country, known as the ‘Second Mexican Empire’, forming part of Latin America – a region that would be built on French influence.
The Mexican Victory
In late 1861, a French fleet 8,000 men strong attacked Veracruz before moving on towards Mexico City where 4,000 Mexican soldiers resisted against the French Army under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. This took place near Puebla, establishing Cinco de Mayo to be known as the Battle of Puebla and cementing its place in history as the site where Mexico reigned victorious over France.
This victory not only meant a win for Mexico. Morale throughout the entire country was boosted and unity among the Mexican people was established, bringing about patriotism and pride.
Mexico’s win was legendary, albeit short-lived. Returning a year later with a fleet of 30,000 men, France defeated the Mexican Army, instilling Emperor Maximilian I as the Mexican ruler and effectively capturing Mexico. However, the French rule only lasted three years as the American Civil War had reached its end and the United States began lending military reinforcements to Mexico to rid the country of the French, and saw France retreat from Mexico in 1866.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more significantly in the U.S. than in Mexico, as a result of the commemoration of Mexican-American culture that U.S. citizens celebrate. The day has been celebrated annually since 1863, starting in California, and has become an integral part of Mexican culture.
In Mexico, the day is celebrated through a majority of ceremonial events, including military parades and re-enactments of the Battle. The site of the Battle, the city of Puebla, celebrates this day each year with a festival of arts and Mexican cuisine, as well as re-enactments of the Battle.