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Cinco De Mayo?? What are we really celebrating?

Battle of Pueblo on Cinco de Mayo

We’ve all heard of Cinco de Mayo or as some Americans eloquently call it, “Cinco de Drinko”  because it usually is followed with a tequila shot, slice of lime and a Corona.

While Cinco de Mayo has become somewhat of an American holiday, Mexican history can be traced back to pinpoint the exact reason the 5th of May is actually celebrated.

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It commerates a not well known but impressive victory over the French, at the Battle of Pueblo during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).

Battle of Puebla

Depiction of the Battle of Pueblo that led to the celebration that is Cinco de Mayo (Photo courtesy of www.Time.com)

Mexico’s liberal President Benito Juarez put the country in financial ruin causing him to default on debts to certain European governments and ultimately propelling a war .

In retaliation Britain, France and Spain sent Naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement.

Britain and Spain were able to settle but France, ruled by Napoleon III, saw it as an opportunity to carve out an empire of the Mexican territory.

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So, in late 1861, a large French fleet landed, forcing President Juarez and his government into retreat.

Led by General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, the French dispatched 6,000 troops to attack Pueblo de Los Angeles thinking victory would come swiftly.

To combat the on coming French, Juarez put together a rag tag group of about 2,000 troops. Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans hunkered down, fortified the city, and prepared for the onslaught.

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On May 5th 1862, Lorencez and his army attacked from the north and the battle lasted from daybreak to early evening.

When the French were finally forced to retreat they had lost nearly 500 men while the Mexican had lost fewer than 100.

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While not a lot was gained from the outcome of the battle, Zaragoza’s success was a symbolic victory and something that would bolster the Mexican government for years to come.

Six years later the French withdrew.

Surprisingly, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican national holiday, however in the town of Pueblo they still celebrate the significance of the victory through parades, reenactments of the Battle of Pueblo, and other festivities.

Cinco de Mayo celebration

Celebration of Cinco de Mayo in Pueblo, Mexico (www.smithsonian.com)

So today, when you take your shot of tequila remember to dedicate it to Mr. Zaragoza and the defeat of the French.


Matt Robertson obtained a BA in History from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an MA in Museum Studies from Morgan State University in Baltimore. Robertson's a major sports enthusiast, avid golfer, passionate Jets fan and enjoys surfing. He's also a talented barista. Follow him on Facebook/MattRobertson and on Instagram @gingerbeardedbarista.

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