EL CINCO DE MAYO.
Why celebrate an otherwise minor holiday in Mexico in the U.S. (or elsewhere for that matter)? Because El Cinco de Mayo is important to Chicanos and to freedom-loving Americans everywhere! El Cinco de Mayo recognizes a major victory against foreign oppression and is second in importance as a holiday in Mexico only to the 16th of September—their Independence Day. The ardent will and pride of the Mexican people to protect and preserve their independence are commemorated and celebrated by El Cinco de Mayo. With Chicanos already sharing cultural and linguistic ties with Mexico, El Cinco de Mayo provides Chicanos and other Americans in the U.S. an opportunity to also share ideological ties with our brethren to the south. El Cinco de Mayo is a win-win for both the U.S. and Mexico!
In our classrooms from preschool to postdoctoral programs, therefore, teachers and professors will want to use the event of El Cinco de Mayo to broaden instruction about the history of Hispanics in this country and to teach about the significance of this event to our people. Assuming that teachers will design instruction for the age, grade, and ability level of their students, educators will want to commemorate El Cinco de Mayo in their classrooms by considering the following questions: a) what happened?, b) when did a happen?, c) why did It happen?, d) who was involved?, and e) why are we celebrating it today in our communities everywhere? Let’s discuss each of these pertinent questions.
What happened? At Puebla, Mexico, on May 5, 1862 approximately 6000 French troops attempted to take the city of Puebla, the defense of which, had been assigned by President Benito Juarez to General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza. Having recently defeated the Mexican army defending the port city of Veracruz, the French felt confident that they could also defeat a mere 2000 Mexican troops at Puebla which was enroute to Mexico City, their prime target. Managing his troops with great aplomb, General Zaragoza was aided by Brigadier General Porflrio Diaz, who in turn, saved the day by repelling a French assault on Zaragoza’s right flank, which resulted in a French retreat. The French lost about 1000 men and the Mexicans lost only 86 men. This victory became a highlight in Mexico’s eventual liberation from control by another European power—not to mention the fact that the U.S. could not have been happier!
When did it happen? This event happened at a time when Napoleon Ill of France thought it would be possible to create a monarchy in Mexico. Due to the fact that Mexico had incurred great debts to a number of European countries, Napoleon Ill decided to collect by conquest. Since the U.S. was too caught up with its own internal conflict of the Civil War, it could not enforce the Monroe Doctrine of forbidding foreign intervention by European powers in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, Napoleon III, if he had been successful in Mexico, was planning to aid the Confederate troops. The El Cinco de Mayo battle at Puebla, therefore, may have been significant to the out-come Civil War in the U.S., because if the Confederacy would have won, we might still have slavery in the U.S. today!
Why did it happen? Historians may never be able to explain why there was the victory at Puebla on May 5,1862, but one thing does seem to be true—it was downright miraculous! It has been said that in spite of the superiority of Napoleon’s troops in number, training, and arms, they were no match for the inspired local defenders. General Zaragoza’s soldiers were mostly indigenous natives from the surrounding regions who were inexperienced in battle. Moreover, they had almost no guns! What they did have was a fierce pride in their homeland. In addition, it was said that Zaragoza was a charismatic leader and that the military skills which he and Diaz demonstrated on the battle field were brilliant. Zaragoza inspired his peasant soldiers with the following expression: “Your enemies are the first soldiers of the world, but you are the first sons of Mexico. They have come to take your country from you.” Subsequently, the French army never stood a chance against the valor of the native fighters!
Who was involved? El Cinco de Mayo provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to focus in on the key Mexican personalities involved in this event. Prominent among them is General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza, who was born at La Bahia Presidio in Goliad, Texas. Adjacent to that city, the Texas State Legislature has created a state park known as the General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza State Historic site. So it was a Chicano born in U.S. territory (Texas) who was the chief hero of El Cinco de Mayo! Another personality from that historical event, and a man who is also held in high regard by Chicanos, was President Benito Juarez, who was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. As a matter of fact, Juarez is many times referred to as the “Abraham Lincoln” of Mexico, just as Father Miguel Hidalgo (who preceded Juarez historically) is many times referred to as the George Washington of Mexico. Another key person involved in the battle at Puebla was Brigadier General Porfirio Diaz, who later rose to prominence as President of Mexico.
So why should we celebrate El Cinco de Mayo? We want to celebrate El Cinco de Mayo because we want to share with our brethren in Mexico the moment of success against tyranny, and we want to recognize our mutual interest in freedom and self-determination. The ideological significance of El Cinco de Mayo is important because it commemorates and recognizes freedom and liberty for all, the cornerstones of the political ideology of the USA (and Mexico)! lt is also important to recognize the extent to which, Hispanics in the U.S., especially Chicanos, identify with EI Cinco de Mayo. A historical event which is significant in the collective consciousness of a cultural minority in the U.S., regardless of the place and time of the historical event, should not be ignored by our country. To do so would be to disrespect the culture and heritage of that cultural minority, i.e., Chicanos. But to ignore the significance of El Cinco de Mayo, however, is to disregard what America stands for and symbolizes to the world! El Cinco de Mayo is a historical symbol of the ideology of liberation, so communities everywhere should commemorate the holiday because it is important to all freedom loving peoples, especially to Americans of Mexican descent, i.e., Chicanos.
Copyright 2014 by Dr. Margarito J. Garcia III.