Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Best Sites For Teaching & Learning About Cinco de Mayo

For the umpteenth time, the Mexican holiday we know as Cinco de Mayo IS NOT Mexico's Independence Day!  (BTW: that is actually in September.)  Cinco de Mayo is the remembrance of the Mexican army’s defeat of the FRENCH at the city of Puebla in 1862. If you think Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with the United States, you have another thing coming!  Read on...

While the U.S. was embroiled in Civil War, both Union and Confederate diplomats were trying desperately to sway support from foreign entities.  Long-independent Mexico, however, was having some difficulties of its own.  Mexican President Benito Juarez had inherited a country deep in debt.  During the early 1860s, Europe’s Big 3 – Britain, France, and Spain – all sent invasion forces to Mexico to demand repayment.  Juarez was able to cut deals with Britain & Spain, but Napoleon III was not so easily swayed. He wanted to extend his empire to Latin America, and installed Maximilian von Habsburg as Mexico’s new French-supported emperor.  France was certain that the U.S. would be too busy with its own Civil War to intervene.  The U.S., though, was very concerned that French troops and supplies might flow through Mexico to reinforce the Confederate States.

During the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862), vastly outnumbered Mexican forces withstood a day-long battle, inflicting such heavy losses that the French chose to withdraw from the city.  This victory rallied the Mexican people to continue their resistance to French invasion and occupation, which continued for many years.  (Does that mean that Mexico was controlled by France in the 1860s?  Oui!) 

At the end of American Civil War, the U.S. invoked the Monroe Doctrine and dispatched troops under General Phillip Sheridan to the Mexican border to keep the French away from American soil. Sheridan supposedly “lost” enormous quantities of weapons and ammunition somewhere along the Tex-Mex border, helping to reinforce and resupply the Mexicans in the process.  By 1867, Mexican resistance to French rule had grown strong enough to overthrow Maximillian, who was quickly executed, and reinstate Benito Juarez as President once again.

So why should "traditional-Americans" be interested in Cinco de Mayo?  Without the Mexican victory at Puebla to rally the Mexican people to continue the fight against Napoleon & Maximillian, it is very likely the French would have provided aid to the Confederate States of America in an effort to build good relations among the new neighbors.  That could have turned the tide of the American Civil War, resulting in a very different outcome.

Want to learn more about Cinco de Mayo?

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