...a man from the place we now call texas once took charge of troops and, surprising everyone (including, perhaps, himself), he made the french army cry. it happened in 1862, while civil war battles were raging in the united states. the mexican soldiers, led by general zaragoza, somehow managed to force the invading french to realize that they'd need a bigger, much better plan 'b'. that battle of puebla was fought and won by an outnumbered, under-equipped mexican army on the fifth day of may.
cinco de mayo is still a national holiday here; our street was quiet without school in session, and the courts' closure kept patricio home with free time to fix an old exercise bike that aunt sara gave us. but apart from the huevos a la mexicana that we made for breakfast (eggs scrambled with tomato, onion and jalapeño--vegetable versions of the mexican tri-color flag), we haven't done much celebrating, and that's the way it plays out most everywhere here. cinco de mayo, a day commemorating an historic battle, is nothing like september 15 and 16, when the country celebrates it's independence in an impressively big way.
it's understandable. huge parties honoring a victorious battle in a war eventually lost might seem strange: though the french were pushed back that day in puebla, they made a comeback that would install maximilian of hapsburg in the capital, the french monarch who'd be mexico's boss for the next three years. those who know this day isn't the country's equivalent of the fourth of july may still believe it marked the nation's independence from france. i admit that i did. patricio did, too. but it turns out not to be either. i'm inclined to believe in a theory about why the day remains important, though, cooked up by a fellow named ignacio gonzález. he says this about celebrating cinco de mayo:
"although la batalla de puebla on cinco de mayo was rendered militarily insignificant by the french's subsequent victory, it did inject the mexican people with pride and patriotism it had never before enjoyed. since its independence from spain in 1821, mexico had suffered one tragedy after another. la batalla de puebla was the first time that the mexican pueblo could rally around a common cause and proudly proclaim, «¡yo soy mexicano!»"
he also has an appealing idea, whether true or not, about why cinco de mayo became a much more popular holiday in the u.s. than in mexico. with a large chicano population (especially in the states that were once a part of spanish-then-mexican territories), the date carries poignant cultural significance, what gonzález calls "victory in the face of great odds." still quite apropos, if i may take the liberty to say so.
clearly, it's now become a date widely unrecognized for what happened or what it meant, and more an excuse to enjoy a few cold coronas and/or mix-made margaritas. not that that's such a bad thing--it's right in line with most mexicans' readiness to embrace any pretext for a good party. and, in the end, i think it's pretty wonderful that the u.s. celebrates an important day in mexican history, two-for-one longnecks on the table or not.
feliz cinco de mayo.