There are a few things that I’m really passionate about in life. One of them is history. I love to read history books, talk about history with other history buffs and watch the History Channel. And when it comes to Mexican history, I can really be a nerd.
That’s why the Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States fascinated me so much when I was living there. In Mexico, this holiday is not a big deal. It’s not even an official holiday. Only in the state of Puebla, where the famous battle took place, schools and government offices remain closed. What exactly is celebrated this day?
Many people in the U.S. believe this is our Independence Day, but that is incorrect. Our Independence Day is September 16th. The year was 1861. Spanish, British and French naval forces were stationed in Veracruz to demand payments that then-president, Benito Juarez, had stopped. After the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Civil War of 1858 and the Reform War of 1860, the country was bankrupt and unable to pay its debt to those foreign governments. Spain and Britain negotiated payments with Juarez’s government and left. However, Napoleon III saw an opportunity to establish an American empire in Mexico that would favor French interests.
In 1862, 6,500 well-armed French troops landed in the port of Veracruz and started for Mexico City. Juarez and its government were driven into retreat. However, the French army, the best at the time, in their blue coats and shiny boots encountered a lot or resistance from the poorly equipped Mexican resistance, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, outside the city of Puebla. It was a long battle with a lot of bloodshed. Eventually the balance tipped to the Mexican side when a group of 1,000 Zapotec Indians armed only with machetes came to the aid of Zaragoza and his 4,000 men.
Eventually Mexico lost the war and Maximilian, an Austrian Archduke, was placed as the Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire. But Mexico has a reason to commemorate this date because Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery and victory of General Zaragoza’s smaller, outnumbered militia at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
This holiday became very popular among Mexican immigrant communities in the U.S. since the 1950s and 60s when Mexican-American, or Chicano, activists embraced the holiday as a way to build pride among Mexican-Americans. This celebration has now been commercialized by beer and other alcoholic beverage companies as a drinking holiday. I’m not opposed to it and I really like the idea of a Mexican holiday celebrated abroad so widely. I would just love to see more information about what this day is all about.
If you celebrate Cinco de Mayo, or if you just like to have people over to drink some Mexican beer and tequila, you are going to need some delicious appetizers and I have the perfect one for you:
2 large avocados
1/2 red onion, chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut avocados and mango and put them in a bowl.
2. Smash with a fork and add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Mix well until they form a smooth salsa.
4. Enjoy with tortilla chips.