by, Jo Carol Hebert
News Headlines: May 5, 1852
“Small Mexican army defeats the French Empire at Puebla!”
Cinco de Mayo
Everyone loves to hear a story of the ‘underdog’ that wins against impossible odds . . .
A large army of the French Emperor, Napoleon, had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed at Veracruz, a port in Southern Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico. They then proceeded to march inland to invade the capital, Mexico City, to secure finances and land. A small army, led by the young General Ignacio Zaragoza stood up against them and defeated them as they crossed through the state of Puebla, Mexico.
The battle began at daybreak, and the French retreated in the early evening. The victory is now celebrated on the 5th of May as Cinco de Mayo.
A Culture of Celebration
Mexico is a land of ‘fiestas’ – celebrations. Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day (September 16th) are the two most popular holidays in their culture. The 5th of May is a day of festivities across Mexico, but especially in Puebla City, which was founded in 1532 and named Puebla de los Angeles. Later, it was designated Puebla de la Zaragoza.
Parades and acting out the ‘unlikely’ victory of the battle of 1852 reminds the people of their cultural heritage and of the bravery of their ancestors. Brightly-colored, hand-decorated clothes swirl as lively, traditional Mexican mariachi music encourages folk dancing.
Cinco de Mayo is also greatly celebrated across the United States, to commemorate and appreciate Mexican culture. Los Angeles and San Francisco, California; Houston, Texas; and Chicago, Illinois, with large Mexican-American populations especially have a ‘fiesta’ on May 5.
Endless food is foremost at ‘fiesta-time’. A dish called Mole Poblano, which originated in the early times of Puebla, is the ‘national dish of Mexico’ – delicious, every day.
A ‘sauce’ of the ancient Aztecs, it can have up to 20 ingredients, including: chili peppers, nuts, cinnamon, Mexican chocolate, almonds, pumpkin seeds, plantains (a type of banana), and tomatoes. This delicacy goes with any food and is often served with chicken and/or rice.
Did You Know?
- Puebla City lies in the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. The active volcano, Popocatepetl erupted in 1994. In 2013, the inhabitants were again pelted with light ash and dust. They live everyday with the rumblings of ‘Popo’.
- Cuexcomate is the smallest extinct volcano in the world in the heart of Puebla. (43’ tall and 75’ around).
- Puebla City has the oldest public library in the Americas: Biblioteca Palafoxiana, Founded in 1646 and recognized as a UNESCO (‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’ World Heritage Site.
- Puebla City has Aztec ruins and perhaps the largest pyramid structure in the World: The Great Pyramid of Cholula (180’ high and 1,300’ x1,300’ at base)
- This city of Cinco de Mayo history is called the City of Street Lights for the many decorative street lamps.
Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May is not just another day! We hope you enjoyed learning about some history of Mexico.