History of Cinco de Mayo

In 1861, when Benito Juarez was elected President of Mexico, the country was in serious financial trouble. It didn't have enough money to pay debts it owed to France, Spain and England. These countries sent forces to Veracruz, Mexico. The country of Mexico worked out a payment arrangement with England and Spain.

However, France, which was ruled by Napoleon III, decided it wanted to try to take over the territory of Mexico. In the fall of 1861, French troops landed at Veracruz, and Juarez and his administration had to go into hiding. General Charles Latrille de Lorencez was on his way to Mexico City when he was stopped by Mexican forces at Puebla de Los Angeles. The town was in east central Mexico. The French general had six thousand troops. Juarez had been staying in northern Mexico. He gathered two thousand men, mostly natives and mixed-race people, and sent them to Puebla.

The Mexican forces were led by General Ignacio Zaragoza. They set up their position outside the town. The fight lasted all day. The French lost five hundred men, but only one hundred Mexicans were killed. This victory on May 5 gave great encouragement to the Mexican people to continue to fight the French. However, the French did come back the next year and won a battle near Puebla.

Mexican-Americans in California were afraid because the French had expressed a wish to help the Confederacy in the Civil War. The Californians opposed the southern belief in white supremacy. The Mexican victory gave them hope that the French would be defeated.

The Latinos in California organized and raised money for the Mexican troops. They thought of the fight for democracy as a two-part battle, one part in the U.S., and one in Mexico. Finally, in 1867, after the United States had helped Mexico with military support and brought political pressure on France, the French troops left Mexico.

Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been made emperor of Mexico in 1864, was captured and killed by Juarez. The town of Puebla was renamed Zaragoza after the general who fought so bravely for the citizens there. The general, however, died several months later of typhoid fever.

May 5 is usually celebrated in the town of Puebla where the battle took place, although some other parts of Mexico hold celebrations too. Parades and re-creations of the battle are usually part of the festivities. It is called Cinco de Mayo. For most Mexicans, it is not a holiday at all.

In the United States, cities and towns with a large group of Mexican -Americans, usually take this day to celebrate Mexican culture. Mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, parties and foods like tacos and burritos mark the day. Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston hold big celebrations.

Mexican Independence was declared fifty years before the battle at Puebla, but many people have come to believe that Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate that independence. Independence Day in Mexico is celebrated on September 16. On that day, a priest, Miguel Hidalgo de Castilla started the movement to free Mexico from foreign domination with his 'Grito de Dolores.' This was a 'cry' to the people to take up arms against the Spanish government who had control of Mexico at that time.

Many Mexican-Americans learn about the holiday in school in the United States. It is not a Mexican holiday, but a Mexican-American holiday.

A: December 23
B: September 16
C: August 4
D: May 5

A: Hidalgo
B: Zaragoza
C: de Lorencez
D: Napoleon III

A: Spain
B: England
C: Italy
D: France

A: French and Indian War
B: Revolutionary War
C: Civil War
D: World War I

A: Louisiana
B: California
C: Nevada
D: New Mexico

A: September 16
B: June 15
C: May 5
D: August 4

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