Did you Know? – Cinco de Mayo

Joann Wolwowicz

Cinco de Mayo, of the fifth of May, commemorated the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War. In the United States, it has taken on significance and commercial value as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations.

Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, commemorated the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War.

In 1861, the liberal Mexican Benito Juárez became president of a country in financial ruin, and he was forced to default on his debts to European governments. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.

Certain that French victory would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a rag-tag force of 2,000 loyal men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well-provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers to the fewer than 100 Mexicans killed.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely triumph occurred. In the United States, revelers mark the holiday with parades, parties, mariachi music. Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano are eaten. Some of the largest festivals are held in Portland, Denver and Chicago.

I hope that everyone has a great Cinco de Mayo. I hope you all enjoyed my Did You Know? articles. Look forward for them to start again next fall!