Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with half-priced tequilas and margaritas, colorful pinatas, and free guacamole at fun-loving American restaurants. Would it surprise you that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day? In fact, this holiday enjoys a larger reception in the U.S. than Mexico where it is only celebrated in Puebla, one of their 31 states, according to North Jersey. The story behind Cinco de Mayo is a fascinating one, a true David and Goliath tale where the seemingly weak overthrew the mighty.
On May 5, 1862, or literally “Cinco de Mayo”, Napoleon III sent 6,000 French soldiers to invade and conquer Puebla. However, there was an uprising of sorts and 4,000 ordinary Mexicans took up arms and fought tooth-and nail-for their land. Some didn’t even have weapons and used farm implements to defend the country which already proclaimed its independence 50 years earlier. They beat the French and sent them packing. According to NBC News, the Battle of Puebla helped to solidify a Mexican identity and it signified a victory “against imperialism.” At the time of the battle, France had the strongest army in the world and the fact that Mexican laypeople overpowered these hardened soldiers lightened spirits and raised Mexico and U.S. morale. At the time of the battle, the U.S. Civil War was in full swing with the Confederacy closing in on Arizona and New Mexico.
There is a definite U.S. connection to Cinco de Mayo in that the hero of the historic battle was a Texan. General Ignacio Zaragosa was born near Goliad, Texas. Despite not having a formal army, Zaragosa led the Mexicans to victory. In 2012, a monument was erected in his honor in Pulaski Park, Passaic, New Jersey. More than 30 percent of Passaic people are of Mexican descent, and as much as 70 percent of its city dwellers hail from the state of Puebla.
So, remember the real story behind Cinco de Mayo while sipping on mojitos at your favorite Mexican restaurant on May 5. Remember the cultural ties between Mexico and Americans are authentic and have deep historical roots. And never forget that when a people stand together, they can be unstoppable.