All Americans Should Celebrate Cinco De Mayo



As the population of our beloved United States of America continues to expand by the arrival of citizens from other countries, (and let us never forget, all of our families were once immigrants,) so expands the attention we pay to ethnic celebrations such as St. Patrick's Day, Kwanza, and Cinco de Mayo.

Next Monday, May 5, Americans from coast to coast, and also in Payson, will mark the Battle of Puebla, Mexico, that occurred in 1862.

It is not quite akin for those born south of the border to Mexico's own Independence Day, Sept. 16. But the celebration makes it clear that not all our American heritage comes from east of the Mississippi.

Spanish-speaking communities were in Arizona long before the English, and the same year American colonies were declaring independence from Great Britain on the East Coast, the

Spanish were establishing their presidio in Tucson.

Cinco de Mayo is a time to celebrate the fact that here we enjoy a diverse heritage, different hues of skin, and a variety of rich cultures. But it also is appropriate for all Americans to celebrate this day because it represents an indigenous movement for democracy.

A ragtag army of Mexican patriots beat back the tough troops of the French Empire, to re-enfranchise the people of Mexico on May 5, 1862.

The standard bearer of this Battle at Puebla was Benito Juarez, an Indian and a wise leader.

He had a saying: "Respect for the rights of others is peace." He had adapted this from the Mayan people whose concept was, "I am your other self." That is, by respecting you, I respect myself. Such principals are fundamental to a working democracy.

It seems the Emperor Napoleon III planned to emulate his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte and create a French empire in America, with Mexico as the centerpiece. Control of trade was his goal, as well as keeping Latin America out of the hands of the United States.

This mission took on new urgency when the U.S. defeated Mexico in 1848, and new borders were being drawn. At the same time a generation of liberal reformers were on the rise in Mexico, led by Benito Juarez. He and his followers threatened the conservative interests, which were championed by the church.

In this 1858-1861 War of Reform, liberal peasants verses conservative rich, Juarez had become president of Mexico and was desperate for funding.

In 1859 he entered an agreement with President James Buchanan for money in exchange for the U.S. right to occupy large areas of northern Mexico.

The Senate rejected that treaty, and in January 1861 Mexico was bankrupt, unable to service its large foreign debt which was owed primarily to France.

Ironically, the Civil War in the states erupted that same year.

Taking advantage of these internal struggles, Napoleon intervened, and invaded Mexico. His plan was to put European royalty, Maximilian and Carlota, on the throne in Mexico. They were supporters of the conservatives and the church.

The Queens of Britain and Spain joined Napoleon in helping with the invasion, and in December 1861, European troops landed at Veracruz, meeting little resistance. By April, Britain and Spain had withdrawn, realizing Napoleon had more in mind than simply the repayment of Mexico's debt.

Sixty-five-hundred French troops marched west toward Mexico City, but first they had to deal with Puebla. This town guarded the approach to the capital by about 75 miles. Mexican conservatives had convinced the French commander that his army would be welcomed with open arms, so he launched a frontal attack on Puebla.

That commander, General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, wrote on the eve of the battle, "We have over the Mexicans such superiority of race, discipline and organization that tomorrow, at the head of my choice troops, I will attack, and I consider that Mexico is mine."

On May 5, the day-long battle ended in a rout of the French, who suffered 500 casualties.

It was a great victory for Mexican independence, and from Mexico City President Juarez rallied his people.

The French retreated to Orizaba and the following year marched again on Puebla, this time with 30,000 soldiers. This time the city fell after a siege of two months, and Juarez abandoned the capital to set up his base at Paso del Norte, today's Ciudad Juarez.

Napoleon established a monarchy for Mexico, with Maximilian on the throne.

However Juarez would not be subdued, and continued to fight.

Back on the continent Napoleon was being pressured by the Prussian Army under Bismarck, and late in 1866 the French army withdrew from Mexico. Maximilian was left high and dry, and after a 100-day siege he surrendered to Juarez and was executed.

There is reason for all Americans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla in addition to enjoying our Mexican heritage.

If the French army had seized Puebla and the rest of Mexico in May 1862, they might well have gone on to side with the Confederacy against the Union in our Civil War. This would have dramatically changed the course of United States history.

Furthermore, the Napoleonic Empire could have extended into Central and South America. However, because Juarez repulsed them at Puebla the French lost the upper hand, and by the time they regained the initiative the world situation no longer favored Napoleon's plans.

In these days, when we debate "a just war," we hear the echo of Juarez's words spoken in November 1861, "It is a grave evil, surely, to wage war against a foreign nation. But the struggle to which we are provoked will serve ... to expunge, once and for all, the abuses of colonialism, and establish forever (in our country) independence, freedom and reform."

So let the mariachis play and let us feast on tortillas, as we remember there is more than fun in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

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