Yesterday morning at the gym, my friend Jose’ graciously complimented me on the bluejayblog post about “Giant”. We got to visiting about blogs and his desire to write a weekly blog about weightlifting tips. He asked where I get my ideas for a daily effort. I said that much of what I write is ad hoc, what presents itself to me. This often happens when I’m driving or even working out. I told him, “Frankly, I’m kind of stumped as to what to post this Thursday!”
Just then, Jose’ flashes me his famous toothy smile and tells me he knows exactly the perfect topic for Thursday. I cocked my head quizzically. He answered, “Cinco de Mayo, of course!” I felt myself grinning when I said that was a splendid idea then I thanked Jose’. He replied that a good friend should be interested in his pal’s efforts, like a blog or other creative work. Then Jose’ volunteered the story of Cinco de Mayo that he learned as a little boy in his little Mexican school.
Cinco de Mayo translates exactly as five of May. The holiday is actually a minor holiday in much of Mexico but is a major holiday in the state of Puebla. The holiday celebrates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army in 1862 in the battle of Puebla. That battle happened during a very turbulant part of Mexico’s history as a young nation.
That stretch of history began with the conclusion of the war of independence from Spain, September 16th, 1821. Then followed some power struggles and juntas, then the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 48. These struggles were capped by the Mexican Civil War in 1858. All of these military actions had trashed the Mexican national economy. The costly wars were paid by loans and aid from Spain, Britain and France. The U.S. debt was settled during the Mexican-American War.
Anyhow, France wished to expand their own empire and decided to use the debt question to force its leadership interests in Mexico. France’s Napolean the Third decided to install his relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, to lead Mexico. The French invaded Mexico in the State of Veracruz and started their 600-mile march towards Mexico City.
The French forces encountered strong resistance near Puebla at the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The Mexican nationals of 4,500 men, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, stopped and defeated the well-supplied and up to date French army of 6,500 men. This action by Seguin’s forces effectively halted the French invasion plans.
However, the following year, Napoleon the Third used the defeat as his excuse to send more soldiers to invade Mexico again. With a force of 30,000 men, France deposed the Mexican army, occupied Mexico City and installed Maximilian of Austria as ruler.
Events finally conspired to overturn Maximilian’s rule. The United States’ Civil War came to an end, the Washington was able to provide political and military aid to the Mexicans to oust France. Maximilian was executed by a firing squad to seal the victory.
So, Jose’ reminded me to write that Cinco de Mayo is NOT the day of Mexican independence from Spain. The holiday is simply a regional festival in a small part of Mexico all about the General Seguin’s victory.
Here, in Norfolk, Nebraska, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by our Mexican inhabitants and a great many other people who just want to be a part of a fun, festive day. It’s a good excuse to indulge ourselves in Mexican cuisine and maybe a bottle or two of Corona.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says, “Feliz Quinto de Mayo is the more grammatically correct greeting.”