It is almost that time of year again, as spring marches forward we are getting closer to Cinco De Mayo. In the United States, Cinco De Mayo (which translates to ‘the fifth of May’) is celebrated widely by consuming copious amounts of alcohol, specifically tequila. But in a larger sense, Mexican culture is also at the heart of most American celebrations on the fifth as we typically eat their famous foods, listen to their music, and even celebrate with famous dance moves from their country.
However, in Mexico the day is celebrated by holding military parades and appreciating the services of military personnel. While both countries celebrate the holiday in different ways, the real story is incredibly inspiring.
The holiday was put in place to commemorate Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the countries army to an unlikely victory over the French war machine during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Of course, was all brought on by the French occupation of Mexico during the aftermath of the Mexican/American War of 1846.
This event also occurred thanks to the Reform War, which was a civil war that had two opposing ideologies, liberals and conservatives. The main issue was the separation of church and state as Mexico’s main religion (Roman Catholic) was becoming more and more involved in government affairs. This war crippled the Treasury department and left Mexico penniless.
Fast forward to 1861, when a large French fleet invaded Veracruz which forced the Mexican president and his cabinet to retreat. The main takeaway is that these battles involved a French army that had over 6,000 men while the Mexican army only had around 2,000. Strategically the Mexican army knew the terrain and had more heart than the French but the victories around Puebla and Mexican forts Loreto and Guadalupe gave the country a significant morale boost.
This was, in essence, a David-and-Goliath-style affair that had the most well-equipped army (the French) losing ground to a spirited Mexican army that was fighting to preserve their way of life. This set off a firestorm of patriotism in Mexico.
So, how did the United States fit into all of this? Well, the U.S. applied pressure to the French and at the time, France was attempting to avoid a full-scale war with Prussia and fend off the scrappy Mexican army, a war with America would have spread them too thin. France also would have notably sided with the Confederates during the American Civil War which could have changed the United States forever.
In the end, Mexico fended off a French invasion that outnumbered their men 2-1, all while establishing a new level of Mexican patriotism. Since then, no country in North America has been invaded by a European force.