Monday, 5 May 2014

Cinco de Mayo

5th May 1862

This day in history...The Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla 


Cinco de Mayo has long been celebrated in the United States and Mexico, and is primarily known in the state of Puebla as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla). Whilst many people have adopted the day as a celebration to enjoy Mexican cuisine, drink, music and a spectacular display of fireworks, some people are still unaware of the day's origins and importance.


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Cinco de Mayo 
Background

The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and the 1860 Reform Wars, left Mexico in a state of French occupation. The Mexican treasury was also almost bankrupt. July 17th 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium - all foreign debt payments would be suspended for 2 years. In response to this, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Negotiations between Britain, Spain and Mexico led to Mexico withdrawing. However, France, being ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish an empire in Mexico that would favour French interests. 

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Napoleon III
The French Invasion

In 1861, a well-armed French fleet advanced on Veracruz and drove President Juárez and his government into retreat. When the French army moved from Veracruz to Mexico City, the Mexicans showed heavy resistance. The 8,000 strong French army attacked the 4,500 Mexican army, who were poorly equipment. However, on the 5th May 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, who were considered as the 'premier army in the world'. 

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President Benito Juárez
Mexican Victory

The victory caused a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the people. Whilst it wasn't a major strategic win overall, the success was a great symbolic victory. The Puebla win became a symbol of unity and pride and became known as 'Mexican David defeating French Goliath.' A great sense of national unity and patriotism followed - hence the large scale of celebration that has continued annually into the present day.

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The Battle of Puebla
Aftermath

The Victory, however, was short-lived. A year later the French returned with 30,000 troops and were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and install Emperor Maximilian 1 as ruler of Mexico. This however was also short-lived, lasting only 3 years from 1864 to 1867. By 1865, the American Civil War was over and the Americans were able to provide more political and military assistance to Mexico. Napoleon III was facing Mexican guerilla resistance, the threat of war from Prussia and a possible war with the United States. He decided to retreat from Mexico in 1866. The Mexicans were then able to re-seize Mexico City and Maximilian I was apprehended and executed in the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro. On the 5th June 1867, Juárez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a legitimate government. 

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Execution of Maximilian I
The Importance of Cinco de Mayo

The Battle of Puebla was important for at least 2 reasons;

  • Although considerably outnumbered, the Mexicans had defeated the 'almighty' French army
  • Since this battle, no country in the Americas has subsequently been invaded by ant other European military force
The Celebrations
United States: The American Cinco de Mayo celebration originated in the Mexican-American communities of the American West, Southwest and Northwest in the 1860s. Mexicans and Latinos living in California during the American Civil War are the first known people to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The event gre in popularity and became a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Eventually it expanded across the United States. On the 7th June 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution callign on the President of the U.S to issue a proclamation, calling upon Americans to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and festivals. The day has gained momentum over the years and several beer and drinks companies have capitalised on the celebratory nature of the day. There is always a constant supply of cerveza, tequila and tortillas. In 2006, there were 150 Cinco de Mayo events across America, showing the impact of the day. Many school districts hold special events to educate children about the day's historical significance. Special events and celebrations are used to highlight Mexican culture and dancing. 

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President Bush hosting a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House, 2005
Mexico: On the 9th May 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday. Although Mexican citizens are proud of the meaning of Cinco de Mayo, it is not a national holiday, apart from in the state of Puebla, where the battle took place. However, all public schools are closed nation-wide in Mexico on the 5th May. In the Mexican culture, skulls are used in art to represent the dead. The skulls are mainly seen on Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead - Halloween), however have been recently used on Cinco de Mayo to remember the dead. 

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Mexican Skull art


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Celebrations in Mexico



















Around the World
  • Windsor, Ontario, Canada: Cinco de Mayo Street Festival. Canadian pubs play Mexican music and serve the relevant cuisine
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Cinco de Mayo skydiving event
  • Cayman Islands, Caribbean: Annual air guitar competition
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica: Annual Celebration
  • Brisbane, Australia and London and New Zealand: Mexican Festival and celebrations
  • Toyko, Japan: Yoyogi Park Event Space celebrate all the Americas, not just Mexican culture
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Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Tokyo

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