Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yes, but do you know what Cinco de Mayo is really all about?

You don't need The Blog of Days to clue you in on Cinco de Mayo celebrations, certainly not in the United States or Mexico.

But -- hey you! -- Mr. and Ms. Average American? Do you have any clue why you're quaffing Coronas today?

I didn't think so.

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day (and, no, kids, the Mexicans do not celebrate the Fourth of July on Cinco de Mayo -- or even September 16, which is the real Mexican Independence Day).

Stay with me for just a moment: On May 5, 1862 an outnumbered Mexican army repulsed invading French forces outside the city of city of Puebla. The city was defended by two forts, Loreto and Guadalupe, Ft. Guadalupe being the stronger of the two. French General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez, misinformed as to the strength of the defending garrison (under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza), ordered an uphill frontal assault against Ft. Guadalupe. While Lorencez was thus engaged against Zaragoza, his flank was turned by a Mexican cavalry column under the command of Brigadier General Porfirio Díaz.

The French were forced to fall back to the coast and await reinforcements.

Reinforcements came and the French then steamrolled the Mexicans and installed a puppet emperor. (The United States, being then engaged in a great civil war, was unavailable, at that point, to remind the French of the Monroe Doctrine.) So on Cinco de Mayo, the French lost a battle -- but they later won the war.

They just didn't win it for very long.

Eventually, the American Civil War ended and the American government began supporting President Benito Juárez. Édouard Manet's painting (above) shows what happened to the puppet emperor, Maximilian I, in 1867.

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