By Kevin Burton
Do you know the story behind Cinco de Mayo?
No, it isn’t the Mexican national Independence Day. That would be Sept. 16.
Cinco is the celebration of a famous battle an undermanned Mexican army won over invading French troops at Puebla, Mexico. Puebla is the city I lived in while working as an English teacher in the late 80s.
Even if your abilities are limited to Fred Sanford Spanish you can probably figure out that Cinco de Mayo means fifth of May in Spanish.
Here’s the story of the battle of Puebla:
“In 1861, French forces invaded Veracruz, Mexico, in an attempt to establish an empire after Mexican president, Benito Juárez, defaulted on debts to European governments,” according to the tourism website www.tripsavvy.com.
“Mexico’s economy had been in a state of turmoil for many years, and while debts had been forgiven by British and Spanish leaders, France’s Napoleon III wouldn’t let up. He sent troops of 6,000 French soldiers to march upon the small town of Puebla on May 5, 1862.”
“They were met by 2,000 Mexican soldiers, mostly ill-prepared indigenous men armed with machetes, waiting to defend their land. Even though they were gravely outnumbered, the Mexican army won, killing approximately 500 French soldiers in the battle.”
General Ignacio Zaragoza led the Mexican troops that day. That’s why some of my students called Puebla “Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza” or Heroic Puebla of Zaragoza. The tourism website didn’t mention Zaragoza’s role, nor that the French regrouped and wiped out the Mexican forces within two days.
Why let a little thing like that get in the way of a great festival!
Though I lived in Puebla I was never there in May, so I have never been to the big Cinco parade in Puebla. I would love to go to that sometime. Here’s what I have been missing, according to Trip Advisor.
“Cinco de Mayo in Puebla begins with a reenactment of the battle itself, where people dress up as French and Mexican soldiers and act out the war. Once the Mexicans overtake the French, the real celebration begins with a civic parade featuring more than 20,000 performers and community members in elaborate costumes, and massive, colorful floats.”
“School children and soldiers march alongside mariachi musicians and flamenco dancers dressed in ornate outfits. The celebration commences with a meal of street tacos and other traditional dishes, hung piñatas filled with sweets, and fireworks. The celebration typically starts around 10 a.m. and lasts for several hours.”
Chances are my Cinco won’t be that cool, but I will celebrate for sure and will recall my ex-pat interlude.
I showed up in Mexico one day in 1987 and grew to love the place because the people there said I could. They embraced me. Now, if you play just the right Flans music, I get nostalgic, homesick for a place that isn’t really my home.
I used to be so stupid as to think everything good and golden stopped at the United States border. I once said as much that to a college classmate and his girlfriend. They laughed uproariously at the cocksure freshman I was.
That’s the sort of ignorance that ugly Americans are made of. But I meant it then.
I know better now.
Cinco as a celebration, like most things in the United States, is divided. In some quarters it is no more than an occasion for a marketing ploy used by merchants targeting a certain demographic.
But in some places it remains a celebration honoring Mexican and Mexican-American culture.
One year Jeannette and I went to what now is our favorite Mexican restaurant. This may have been our first time at the restaurant together. We were marveling at how busy the place was on a weeknight until suddenly it dawned on me, it’s Cinco!
That was one of the few times the holiday slipped my mind.
Two more things before I go. First,
Flans was a very cool all-female band of the 80s. You should check them out on You Tube.
Second, the Page 7 blog has been read in the United States and in 37 other countries so far, but never in Mexico. Not once!
Could this be the post that gets me noticed in Mexico? Please, I mean, por favor?