Category Archives: Latin American History

Viva Mexican Independence! Sort of…

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Mexican Independence from Spain, right?  No.  Mexico defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, and this is the genesis of Cinco de Mayo. 

If you’re wondering what the French were doing in Mexico in 1862, keep in mind that Mexico just lost the Mexican American War.  Before the war, Mexico looked something like this, minus the Absolut Vodka:

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Mexico also lost a lot of money, and canceled its debts to foreign countries.  France was not very pleased, and invaded Mexico, setting up a new French-Mexican Empire.  This was under Napoleon III, who was also designing other ways of creating Empire, too.  The Mexicans rallied and defeated the French, which was an utterly amazing feat, considering the training and prestige of the French army against the untrained Mexicans.

So Mexico lived on independently, right?  Nope.  The French invade with more troops and a year later, install a new president, Maximilian I.  . On June 5, 1867, Benito Juarez enters Mexico City to take back Mexico for Mexicans, but “Cinco de Junio” doesn’t have the same ring as “Cinco de Mayo”.  And besides, Mexicans living in America were already celebrating the brief liberation from the French, so the date stuck, and still sticks to this day.

As you celebrate this day, ask anyone what Cinco de Mayo commemorates. Will they know?