Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over France

By Laura Rahill

Mexicans will observe the holiday of Cinco de Mayo Monday. This observance commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France in the 1862 Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

Contrary to popular belief, the “Batalla de Puebla” is not the celebration of Mexico’s independence day, which is Sept. 16 to commemorate Mexico being freed from Spanish rule in 1810.

In the mid-1800s, Mexico was in a state of crisis economically, and otherwise having been defeated by the Americans. Under terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico was forced to hand over all of California, Nevada and Utah and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado to the United States.

This humiliating defeat left Mexico divided on how to get back on track. The liberals and conservatives fought a bitter civil strife, with each refusing to recognize the other as leader. The liberals eventually won just before a French invasion.

The civil war meant Mexico was still in ruin and debt, owing money to foreign debtors including Spain, France, Britain and America. The president, Juarez, suspended payment of all foreign debt for two years, which caused a backlash, particularly from France.

About 6,000 French troops marched on the capital, backed by vanquished conservatives. President Juarez put together a 4,000-strong but under-armed force against the French.

On May 5, 1862, the outnumbered and poorly armed Mexican army led by Texas-born Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, defeated French forces in what became known as the Batalla de Puebla.

Today, this commemoration is more commonly known as Cinco de Mayo which translates to “fifth of May.” This was a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and a huge morale boost. Six years later, thanks to military support and political pressure from its neighbor the United States, the French withdrew from Mexico.

Today, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has come into its own as a huge, festive celebration of Mexican culture, heritage and pride. In New York, there are large Mexican-American populations, so the festivities are widespread.

Music and street festivals are not uncommon in both towns across Mexico and the United States. Of course, like many holidays celebrated in the United States, there is a commercial element to the occasion with businesses promoting Mexican services and goods, particularly food, drinks and music.

Those who wish to join the celebration can do so in our own Queens neighborhoods. Queens’ biggest park, Flushing Meadows Corona, hosts a free, annual cultural and music celebration featuring entertainers, food and activities.

Queens Museum will also hold a hands-on, interactive experience with great exhibits of Mexican culture.

The Jamaica Center for the Performing Arts and Learning will also host a Cinco de Mayo fun-filled, family day with art activities and musical performances.