Why the Confederates Don't Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

“Ay, yay, yay-yay, canta y no llores….” rings the Cielito Lindo tune while we swiftly sip on a margarita. Cinco de Mayo comes around each year and it’s time to celebrate. We salud each other to Mexico’s Independence, to their culture’s food and drink, and to have a great time with the excuse to tip that second (read: fourth) tequila shot. We, the people up here in the USA, realize that Mexico is raging with bigger festivals and louder venues, but that doesn’t deter us from pushing out as many party muscles as possible – especially in the southwest states close to the border. But do we really know why we celebrate?

I threw out the question, “What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?” at many San Diegans over the past month. Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, etc. – the ethnicity or age didn’t influence the answers. In order of frequency, the following replies decisively took the majority:

“Mexican Independence Day.” “I don’t know.” “Spanish Independence Day.”

And some notable answers:

“Kicking Mexican Ass.” “I don’t know. But if someone is doing something that day then I join in.”

Then I ventured out to my friends via Facebook:

“A world wide opportunity for us stiff folk who can't dance worth a damn to drink sufficient tequila to let us think we're as cool, hip and culturally alive as the Latinos....” – via a friend living in Uruguay

“It originated as part of an economic stimulus package for Southern California sometime back in the early 80s. It's success was so widespread, that Americans everywhere demanded that this wonderful holiday occur more that just once a year, thus, the weekly holiday of Taco Tuesday was born....” - via a friend in Orange County

“Fifth of May - something about kicking French peoples’ asses!?! – via a friend from Denmark

Out of the 50 people verbally asked here in town, a young bus boy at Islands Restaurants and a second-grade primary school teacher replied correctly: this day commemorates the Mexican battle victory against the larger, invading French troops in the city of Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862. But is that really it? And more importantly, why does America celebrate this day?

Let’s first go to the history in cliffs-note form. In the year of 1862, the French, British, and Spanish arrived to Mexico to collect past due debt. The British and Spanish came only for the dough, but the French (sent over by the little man Napoleon III) came to conquer Mexico and to place an emperor in Mexico City. The Spanish and British realized this, got in and out quickly, while the French held fighting plans. The US could not offer assistance to Mexico because we were figuring out if our future would be with or without slaves on American soil.

The estimated 8,000-plus French Army marched from Vera Cruz towards Mexico City to take the capital. But in the way, near the town of Puebla at two Mexican forts, awaited a much smaller Mexican militia estimated at around 4,000 men. The French were taken by surprise and tasted a sour defeat - something they hadn’t been dealt in 50 years. With this victory rose Mexico’s pride as a nation, and they continued fighting the French for two more years until France ultimately won and placed an emperor in the city. This day commemorates winning a battle, not a war. So again the question, why the fiesta over here Stateside?

The world sat on the sidelines of our civil war with some hoping that the Confederacy would successfully succeed – effectively cutting up the United States’ power. We declared that it would mean war if the French, or anyone, diplomatically recognized the Confederacy. However, the French continued to supply the Confederates.

Now consider Mexico, the Battle of Puebla, and the French invasion. In their timely efforts to defend their own country, Mexico prevented the French from supporting the Confederacy for an entire year. And what happened 14 months after the Battle of Puebla? You got it – the Union Army declared victory and the States went on into its unified future.

So yes, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in big part for commercial interests of pushing of margaritas…and according to my friend in the OC it is the reason we are blessed with Taco Tuesdays. And no, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day. But maybe, just maybe, it was a day in which the Union Army, and the entire USA, received some indirect help to win the Civil War. This holiday can be about celebrating the history of Mexico and USA together and recognizing that we are in it for the long haul – as a team. We have been neighbors for many years; have fought against each other, with each other, and for each other within the last 200 years. The American-Mexican relationship is nothing short of vital for both nations. Let’s keep that in mind...for as long as the tequila poppers will allow us to anyways.

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Comments

Another great piece. Thanks for a good laugh and for positive enlightenment. Cheers!

Great article on a hotly debated topic; usually ending in a request for another round of shots. I'm printing this out and taking with me on 5/5. Way to go.

When my dad worked as a bartender at the EM Club on Camp Pendelton, he called Cinco de Mayo "Cinco De Drinko To El Stinko." This was because the 5th of May was used to get totally blasted by a lot of the young sailors and Marines (and it was Jack Daniels, rather than margaritas, that was the "buzz of choice."), with the usual visit by the Shore Patrol and/or Military Police to break up the liquor-fuled sailor vs Marine brawls.

Needless to say--Dad couldn't wait to get back to work at the Naval Hospital, where he served as a Hospial Corpsman (HMC--Chief Hospital Corpsman--at the time).

--LPR

Robbie, I think you are perhaps closer to the mark than the thread originator. I am with his sentiments, that the US and Mexico are linked through vital and common interests. But there's no doubt in my mind Cinco de Mayo, like St. Patrick's Day, is just another day to get stinkin', drinkin'! ;)

Very nicely written article and interesting facts about the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo. While Mexico may or may not have prevented the French from supporting the US Confederacy in the US Civil War is not that relevant in my oppinion. Why do we in the US celebrate this Mexican holiday? If you are of Mexican heritage, then by all means celebrate the holiday if you even know what it is you are celebrating, which by this article's tone, most do not. In America we celebrate our Independence Day among others. If you live and work in America and reap the benefits, this is something you should celebrate and be grateful. The British and French have contributed much more to to the US in World War II among other battles. Why do we not celebrate every French and British recognition day then as this article claims "partners" should. When did Mexico ever send their military or monetary support to help us fight dictatorships, communism, chemical warfare powers, etc...? I don't remember Mexico stepping up after 911 like many governments, who don't share our border, did with finanical, military, and much, much more support. When did Mexico step up with it's so called "Partner" and fight oppression, world hunger, world disease with their support? I can't think of too many historic or recent cases in history where Mexico has been this great partner of ours. I think Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated by those of Mexican heritage, but as far as the rest of us, why?

Wow! This is an outstanding article! I think I learned more about the origin of Cinco de Mayo from this little piece, than from all my years of schooling! Very well written. Thank you Mexico for Taco Tuesdays!

Hey beckles, thanks for darkening the mood... seems like you need a little Cinco de Mayo festivity to help you chill....

I enjoyed the author's approach to this subject.

I like this article because...First, it didn't perpetuate the Cinco de Mayo stereotype. Second, it tries to correct common misconceptions surrounding this day. Third, the author's tone/technique is quite refreshing. That is, the historical information provided is balanced by his life encounters...asking people in San Diego what they think, people, on FaceBook, Islands waiter, etc.

This topic is stimulating. The blog was well written, well researched, and informative without making me yawn. I am a woman who was born and raised in San Diego, not of Mexican or Latin descent, and I have grown up celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I have vague memories from my elementary school in Poway, 40 miles from the border and a place not as culturally diversified as, say, Chula Vista, of celebrating the holiday with breaking piñatas, consuming Mexican sweet treats in class, and drawing and coloring our version of the day per the teacher’s request. I don’t remember ever being taught what it actually meant, but maybe I was too busy eating those chili covered mangoes. Then, when I became of age, every May 5 all my friends and I go out to drink copious amounts of tequila, and I can safely guess that the majority of us don’t think about what we are celebrating.

San Diego has inextricable cultural ties with Mexico, and as much as I enjoyed the validity of beckles response, I’m not convinced that it applies to us here in San Diego. We are 5,000 miles from Europe, why would we celebrate Bastille Day? I am in total agreement that Mexico wasn’t aiming to aid in a Union victory when they stationed their militia in the town of Puebla, and that they haven’t historically been as brotherly a border country to the United States as they could be. They haven’t lent help to us financially nor in terms of man-power, either, unless you count the thousands of Mexicans who have come over here to do the manual labor that none of us want to do. Whether or not Mexico can (or should) lend aid to the United States is debatable, but I don’t think the point of the blog was to argue political decency.

The author only sheds light that since us SoCal’ers will celebrate hardily by “flexing our party muscles” regardless of having knowledge of the actual event or not, we might as well have a reason.

And now that I have been hit by the big stick of knowledge regarding 5/5, I feel even more comfortable saying, “More tequila!”

Great article and very well researched. I lived in Mexico and Cinco de Mayo seemed to only be big in Guanajuato and (of course) Puebla States. There is a lot of history that we seem to ignore when it comes to Mexico. I agree with you that we are in it for the long haul with Mexico, just as we are with Canada. We are, after all North Americans... Salud!

Very well-written article. Truly enjoyed reading it.

And yes, it may be a bit of a stretch to say that the victory of the Union was partly due to those 4000 brave men...but, I'll drink to that!

So i'm really happy i read this article, since Cinco de Mayo IS only a couple of days away...now ill sound super smart when i ask my friends why we're celebrating and i'm the only one with a legit answer...thanks for the very interesting history lesson, cant wait to show-off ;-)

We all know that Cinco de Drinko is an excuse for the gringos to get looped up but don't forget the writer covers that in the first few lines of his piece. Entertaining and informative...what more could you ask for in an article?

Very interesting! It is good to understand the real meaning and is a good converstaion starter.

What a fantastic article! I had no idea that these events took place! Thanks for the great history lesson and I too will print out this article to share with my friends on Cinco De Mayo!

Those who pay attention to such things have been told over and over that CdM is a "minor" holiday in Mexico. Mexico observes many holidays that are unknown here in the US. I think there were two reasons for the popularity of the day in the US--and that is not just true in the border region now, it is all over the nation. First is that those of Mexican heritage who remember the battle with pride wanted to commemorate it, and that was true for those in the US more than those still at home in Mexico. The other was that Mexican cuisine was catching on all across the US and the cocktail of choice was the margarita. There was a slow period between Easter and Memorial Day, and the merchandisers needed something to fill the gap. So what was more natural than to feature CdM as a day for festive eating and drinking? It gave the restaurant chains like El Torito a day to promote, and also introduced some stick-in-the-mud folks to try that "exotic and fiery" Mexican food. The holiday is still evolving in the US, but it gives hostesses a theme and a menu for a party, and the guys get to guzzle cerveza and/or copious tequila, whether mixed or straight. What's not to like about that? One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!

It is so nice to know what I will be celebrating. Now it is not just fun it is my civic duty.

Interesting, if oversimplistic, historical theory Señor Degrazier. One quibble, the civil war ended April 9, 1865, 35 months after Cinco de Mayo.

I hope you don't mind... I quoted you on an FB thread to settle an argument about Cinco de Mayo and what not..!! It brought some peace to the convo..

ddegrazier - Great read, appreciate the perspective. I too was a tad confused as to what the 5th of May commemorates - but was to reluctant to ask.

Loved the piece - keep 'em coming!

Joaquin_de_la_Mesa: And here I thought that math has always been my strong point? Thanks for the correction!!

Clandestina: I don't mind at all - I am glad that this piece could be of use.

To All: Thanks for the comments and thoughts - it's fun to see what everyone's take is.

Dominic

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