Though Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, is not a special day in the history of the United States, it is a very important date to many Mexican Americans. That’s the day in 1862 that an army of 2,000 Mexicans under General Ignacia Zaragoza turned back 6,000 French soldiers. And though it is not their national Independence Day (that occurs in September), it was a day when a proud people succeeded in holding off a European power that was attempting to invade their soil.
So happy with the victory were the Mexican people that they changed the name of the place where the battle took place from Puebla de los Angeles to Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of their beloved leader.
The Mexican government will have to take the blame for the invasion because it had defaulted on payments to France, Spain and England on money it had borrowed. That’s why the three countries decided to make an example of Mexico by mounting a joint naval operation to force a settlement for their bondholders.
Fleets of three European powers arrived in the Vera Cruz harbor in late 1861. The English and Spanish ships left after making preliminary settlement arrangements. The French, however, would not accept the contract and began making plans for a war of conquest. The battle on May 5, 1862, went to the Mexicans. Their jubilation, however, was short lived. Napoleon III sent reinforcements and defeated the Mexicans in a second attack. He placed Maximilian on the Mexican throne. Maximilian was later executed and the Mexicans took control of their government again.
Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California enthusiastically celebrate Cinco de Mayo with large festivities centered at City Hall where friendship speeches are delivered by dignitaries from Mexico and the U.S.
Parades, sporting events, ethnic food, music and dancers in native costumes are the order of the day.
In most other parts of the country, including here, it is observed in Mexican restaurants and cantinas, and is still a symbol of the principle of standing firm to retain one’s freedom and liberty.
The writer, a New Haven resident and prolific reporter on Fort Wayne area activities, is a frequent contributor to this publication.