Ahhh...Cinco de Mayo. The day we Americans celebrate Mexican Independence Day by throwing parties, quaffing margaritas, tequila or Modelo beer and enjoying a fun super tasty South of The Border feast.
But that's not entirely correct. There's lots of fun parties and the alcohol does flow freely. The food is always marvelous and super tasty.
Yet Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican independence day. That's September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is in fact, more of an American holiday than a Mexican one. And one that deserves more recognition than it gets.
Cinco de Mayo's roots begin during the French occupation of Mexico. Mexico at the time was in a real mess. They had 15 years of wars (The Mexican-American War, The Mexican Civil War and The Reform War) and everybody was getting tired of it. Finally in 1861, Mexican President Benito Juarez told Britain, Spain and France to hold off on their debt collection for these wars for two years until they can financially reorganize and get the country back on track.
They sent armies to confront Mexico and collect their debts regardless. Britain and Spain negotiated and backed off. But the French, under the rule of Napoleon III would not hear of it and another war began. Napoleon III wanted to turn Mexico into a French territory and since the Americans at the time were in an ugly civil war, he thought he could establish a strong enough foothold in Mexico, which he could then use to invade America (which was still a very small, very rural country at the time.) By using the Confederate South as proxies.
Napoleon sent 8,000 troops to attack Mexico's 4,500 troops at Veracruz. But on May 5, 1862, the much smaller Mexican army sent the French into retreat. The news reached the border communities of America where people celebrated the news.
While there would be more fighting, a major turning point had begun. Had Napoleon III defeated the Mexicans at Veracruz, the Civil War could have ended very differently.
So Cinco de Mayo is very much an American holiday. (More on Cinco de Mayo)
It was the expanding Latino communities that brought the holiday across America. But it was beer companies in the '80s that helped bring Cinco de Mayo into the American mainstream.
Because if there's one thing everyone LOVES, it's to party.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!