It’s Friday, the end of the week, so maybe you’re thinking you can let yourself go a little bit, and you can drive through a Taco Bell at lunchtime for a Crunch Wrap Supreme. And tonight is Friday night, so maybe you’re thinking you can let go a little bit more, and head on over to Paco Loco’s for a Dos Equis, or perhaps dos. And, given today’s date, perhaps that might lead to a shot of sauza or six. All of which is fine, but if you are doing it in the spirit of supporting our neighbors to the south, lo siento amigos, you will NOT be celebrating Mexican Independence Day.
What you WILL be celebrating is the Battle of Puebla, which was fought on Cinco de Mayo, 1862. At that time, Mexico was already independent, having gained their sovereignty way back in 1810. Unfortunately, not long after that, Mexico wrecked their economy and defaulted on payments owed to Spain, Britain and France. And all three of those countries sent their armies to collect on the debt. Mexico cut deals with Spain and Britain, who took their gold and went home. But Napoleon III of France – the most powerful man in the world at the time – wanted more. So he sent his army into the interior, to take over all of Mexico and set up a puppet government.
But incredibly, unthinkably, at the small town of Puebla, 4,000 Mexican troops wiped out 8,000 members of the awesome French Foreign Legion and repulsed the invader. Un milagro.
Si, es muy interesante, but why should Americans care?
Well, since it was 1862, the United States was at the time knee-deep in brother-on-brother carnage. And Napoleon had an ambitious end-game, which was to take over Mexico, supply the American Confederacy with arms and equipment, split the United States in two, and then take over the entire Western Hemisphere. Mexico, by miraculously winning the Battle of Puebla, kept France at bay for another year, which bought the Union time to build the largest army in history, turn the tide in 1863 at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, win the Civil War, and solidify control of North America.
Uh-oh, now you’re troubled. You were thinking that Cinco de Mayo was just a novel excuse to hoist a few glasses with umbrellas in them. And now you’ve come to realize that Cinco de Mayo isn’t just a shout-out to Mexican heritage. Maybe, just maybe…Cinco de Mayo is a recognition… that the United States may just owe its existence in its present state …to Mexico.
AYE DIOS MIO, NOW YOUR HEAD MUST REALLY BE THROBBING!
There, there. Have a Cuervo, it will help. And as you do so, throw in a heartfelt “¡Viva Mexico!” in honor of our helpful friends to the south.
(And consider this. The REAL Mexican Independence Day is September 16, so you’ve got plenty of time to practice screaming, “Happy Dieciséis de Septiembre!”)
– Mike Keeler