Cinco de Mayo: The American Civil War Connection

The Cinco de Mayo commemoration of the battle of Puebla has been celebrated continuously in California since 1863. In reality, it is considered more of an American holiday than it is Mexican. The holiday spread from the West to other states after World War II, however it did not become the wildly popular cross-cultural festivity of today (2nd to St. Patrick’s Day—another appropriated holiday) until beer companies commercialized it in the 1980s.

Now raise your Margarita glasses and toast General Zaragoza’s men—the real heroes of the original Cinco de Mayo. Here's some history for you, plus links to learn more about these people, places, and events in our E-Library!

Napoleon III sent his troops to conquer Mexico with the intention of setting up a monarchy and aiding the Confederacy in its war against the United States Government. Some scholars assert that had the battle at Puebla not delayed the French plans for a year, the French would have freed Southern U.S. ports from the Union blockade, thereby sealing the victory for the Confederacy.

California Latinos raised money and troops to support both Mexico’s fight against Napoleon III’s intervention and the Union’s cause. When the Californianos learned of Zaragoza’s May 5th victory, they celebrated with the renewed hope that freedom would prevail over slavery and tyranny.

Regardless of the commercialization that followed (no, neither “Cinco de Drinko” nor “Drinko de Mayo” are ever acceptable), that fateful battle in Puebla remains a reminder to Chican@s and people everywhere that democracy is worth fighting for regardless of the odds.

Some interesting facts:

  • General Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the 2,000 rebels of primarily indigenous Mexicans against the 6,000 French troops in Puebla on May 5, 1862, was born in Mexican Texas.
  • Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico. Public schools are closed throughout the country, but the day is only officially celebrated in the states of Puebla and Veracruz.
  • The largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world is in Los Angeles—please leave your sombrero and fake mustaches at home.
  • According to recent census data, of the 33.7 million people of Mexican descent in the U.S., 22.3 million (66%) are natural-born citizens of this country. People of Mexican descent are 64% of the total U.S. Hispanic population.
  • When Abraham Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, Latinos of Mexican descent rallied votes for him with campaign flyers featuring the flags of both the U.S. and Mexico.

Happy Cinco de Mayo—a true American Holiday!

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