I’m always up for a celebration but I have to admit that while I can appreciate the parades and the music and traditional food, I've never really known the reason behind why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated.
I had wrongly assumed that it had something to do with Mexican independence (which actually happened 50 years before), when in fact it commemorates the Mexican Army’s 1852 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Thank you History Channel.
In 1861, the President of Mexico, Benito Juarez was forced to default on his debts to France, Britain and Spain. Although Britain and Spain negotiated (after sending naval forces to Veracruz to demand payment) and left them in peace, France, ruled by Napoleon III decided they would rather turn the Mexican territory into a dependent empire. The French fleet stormed Veracruz and drove Juarez into retreat.
What happened next is something that would make anyone defending their country from outsiders, proud. Juarez rounded up a rag-tag force of 2,000 (other accounts have the number closer to 4,000) loyal men and under the command of Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, sent them to defend Puebla de Los Angeles from 6,000 (again, other accounts have this number closer to 8,000) French troops.
The upshot is, the outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans prepared for the assault and on May 5, 1862, French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez led his far superior forces (by any account), supported by heavy artillery, against them. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening. By the time the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 of General Zaragoza’s troops had been killed.
Although not considered a major strategic win in the overall Franco-Mexican War, Zaragoza’s success was a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and gave Juarez’s resistance movement quite a boost.
I’m not going to go into strategies and the why’s and wherefores of what contributed to France withdrawing six years later because that has more to do with the politics of the time, including America’s own Civil War.
You can see the political unrest during this time period portrayed in several movies: Vera Cruz with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper, Two Mules for Sister Sara with Shirley MacLaine and that squinty-eyed dude:), and The Undefeated with John Wayne and Rock Hudson. There may be more but these were the movies that came to mind.
Today, the holiday commemorating the Battle of Puebla has become a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture marked with parades and parties and wonderful, traditional food and music.
It seems as if my love of food takes me in many directions and yesterday, a chance viewing of a cooking show celebrating this holiday inspired me to investigate Cinco de Mayo. If you’d like to check out the show here’s the link:
Mexican Made Easy with Marcella Valladolid starts off with her Spiced Chicken that looks super yummy with an incredible Chocolate Pasilla sauce (much easier than mole`) includes Kale and Zucchini Tamales, Potato and Chorizo Flautas and ends with a Strawberry/Cucumber Margarita. If I was throwing a party today, this would be my menu:)
Until next month,
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!