“That’s Mexico’s national day of Independence. Right?” Well, no it isn’t really. That date is actually on the 16th of September and is called “Grito de Dolores” (“Shout of Dolores”). There’s another wonderful story about that holiday which actually starts on the 15th of April.
“Well if it’s not the Mexican Independence Day, why celebrate it?” For a lot of reasons and you can pick your favorite. What actually happened on the 5th of May was very significant not only to Mexico but within the world powers on two continents later on. Besides that, there are many countries that celebrate historically appropriate armed conflict events which don’t have anything to do with their winning independence.
For example the Greek people celebrate “Oxi Day” (Pronounced O-HE). Apparently on the 28th of October in 1940, Il Duce, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini of Italy called Premier Metaxes of Greece and asked him if he was going to surrender because Mussolini was going to invade if he didn’t. It was really late that night when the call came in and Metaxas listened to what Mussolini said.
Then he said “Oxi,” calmly hung up the phone and went back to bed and the Greek’s have been celebrating the event ever since. The direct translation of that word is ‘No.’ (As a historical note, the Greeks were able to beat back Italy’s forces until the German Nazi army came in with their Blitzkrieg and then they occupied Greece.)
Canada observes several holidays like this. Among them is Victoria Day which is to celebrate that Queen’s birthday on the Monday closest to 24th May. For their military, they observe Remembrance Day on November 11th. In America we used to celebrate May Day with shows of military strength, but now it’s Veteran’s and Armed Forces Day. America really isn’t a good example here because they have holidays for everything (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
Although Mexico wasn’t directly involved in the Spanish-American War. (You can argue that point with me if you want and probably win but there were several ‘Border Skirmishes’ along the Texas border.) Anyway, when the peace treaty was signed off President Benito Juárez was broke. Mexico had lost the Mexican-American war not ten years before. That was followed by the Mexico’s Civil War in 1858. Then they had the Reform Wars in 1860. There was no money to deal with. Mexico owed the United States, England, France and Spain. President Juárez’s back was against the wall so he declared a moratorium on Mexico paying anyone back for two years.
America was building into her own civil war and wasn’t in a position to do or say anything other than to agree to the two year laps. England, Spain and France all sent over their Navy’s and headed for Veracruz. (You ever notice that when someone or anyone wants to invade Mexico they almost always do it through Veracruz? I don’t think I would like to live there.)
Both England and Spain saw reason and never landed troops. France, on the other hand, under the leadership of Napoleon III, (Nephew to Bonaparte who sold the Louisiana Purchase to President Jefferson. He had given it to Spain 1762 only to take it back again in 1780.) landed 8,000 troops with dreams of having a Second Napoleon Empire in the New World. Figure it out. Here’s lots of land for the taking. He has a firm friendship with the Confederate American States. The North American States Government can’t do a thing about the Monroe Doctrine because they’re too busy fighting their Civil War and the South will accept all the support it can get. It was a great plan only one thing went wrong.
Somehow a Mexican General by the name of Zaragoza found 4,500 men and a few days later, on the 5th of May 1862, and annihilated that French force near Puebla. On the short side of things it only took France three years to come back and completely capture Mexico with 30,000 troops this time. Things didn’t go too well for France after that. They faced a lot of guerrilla activity headed by the same Benito Juárez only to be aided by the United States who had finished fighting themselves and aided the Mexican people in ousting France. This happened when Napoleon’s puppet, Maximilian I, was finally caught and executed in 1867.
There were and still are large communities of Hispanic Americans in the western States. In the 1860’s they paid particular attention to the happenings in their ethnic mother country. When they were informed of the Puebla battle, they erupted with great joy and celebration. It’s been spreading ever since. How far you may ask: On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Canada has restaurants selling special Mexican food along with the music being played. Several towns are hosting parades commemorating Cinco de Mayo. Countries such as Australia, and in Europe as well as in the Caribbean are falling into line with their own celebrations. In Mexico the celebration is growing. It was focused only around Puebla in the past but the rest of the country is catching on.
I’ll tell you what! You can give me some of that loud and very brassy Mariachi music, warm breezes, pretty dancing girls with their full and very brightly decorated dresses and skirts. A plate full of enchiladas or some tacos with a beer or better yet, for me, a diet coke.
Manzanillo Sun’s eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009