Friday, May 6, 2011

Yesterday was... Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “Fifth of May”) is a holiday which has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico. A devastating series of three wars which took place between the years of 1846 and 1860 left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt. In 1861, Mexican President, Benito Juárez, issued a moratorium on the payment of foreign debts for two years in an effort to allow rebuilding of Mexican finances. In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, at that time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish an empire in Mexico that would favor French interests.

Late in 1861, the French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large army which drove President Juárez and his government into retreat. Moving then towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The 8,000-strong French army, which at that time was the best in the world, attacked the much more poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,000. Yet, in the early hours of May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated nationwide in the United States and regionally in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the victory occurred. While observance of Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is rather sedate, the date is observed in the United States more as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. Some cities hold parades and other events. There is traditional dancing, lots of food, and more than an abundance of fine Mexican beer, lending the celebration a closer resemblance to St. Patrick’s Day than Armistice Day.

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