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April 29, 2009 > Cinco de Mayo... Viva Mexico!

Cinco de Mayo... Viva Mexico!

By Simon Wong

Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for "Fifth of May," is a regional holiday in Mexico, observed primarily in the state of Puebla with limited recognition in the rest of the country. It commemorates Mexico's defeat of France on May 5, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin.

Though Cinco de Mayo has limited significance nationwide in Mexico, it is celebrated in the United States and elsewhere around the world as a mark of Mexican heritage and pride. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day which falls on Sept 16.

In July 1861, Mexican President, Benito Juarez, suspended Mexico's interest payments to its creditors. This sparked the Maximilian Affair, or Franco-Mexican War. Britain France and Spain, Mexico's main creditors, signed the Treaty of London in Oct 1861 to force resumption of payments using gunboat diplomacy.

British, French and Spanish fleets arrived in Veracruz in Jan 1862. The British and Spanish withdrew their forces in April 1862 when they realised France's true ambition was to conquer Mexico.

Despite the initial success of the French invasion, Mexican forces defeated the French army on May 5, 1862 (now the Cinco de Mayo commemoration). This victory was a temporary setback for the French who took the capital, Mexico City, in June 1863. The French installed His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in April 1864.

Many historians believe the French created the monarchy whilst the United States was preoccupied with the Civil War (1861-65) and unable to otherwise intervene according to the Monroe Doctrine. Enacted in Dec 1823, the doctrine regarded European governments' attempts to colonize or interfere with states in the Americas as acts of aggression warranting US intervention. US Congress formally expressed its opposition to the establishment of the Mexican monarchy six days before Maximilian accepted the crown.

In February 1866, the US demanded the withdrawal of French forces which began at the end of May 1866. Forces loyal to President Benito Juarez executed Maximilian I on June 19, 1867. The deployment of US troops along the Rio Grande and the threat of invasion strengthened Juarez's position. Mexico City surrendered the day after Maximilian I was executed and the republic was restored under Juarez, thus, ending France's occupation of Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo is significant for two reasons. First, the French army, better equipped and outnumbering the Mexican forces by two-to-one, suffered its first defeat in 50 years. Second, the Battle of Puebla is the last time that an army from another continent invaded the Americas.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo enjoys greater observance than in Mexico and is an opportunity for all, regardless of ethnicity, to celebrate and share the culture and experiences of Mexican-Americans. Celebrations incorporate traditional Mexican symbols, such as the Virgen de Guadalupe, and prominent figures of Mexican descent in America, such as Cesar E. Chavez. They feature food, mariachi bands and ballet folklorico groups.

Cinco de Mayo Celebrations


Event: Festival
Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Location, City Hall Plaza, 777 B St, Hayward, CA 94541
Admission: Free
Contact: Francisco Zermeno (510) 732 2746

Presented by La Alianza de Hayward


Event: Festival
Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Location: Jerry Raber Ash St Park, 37365 Ash St, Newark, CA 94560
Admission: Free
Contact: Lorraine (510) 797 2204 or Joaquin (510) 396 5857

Presented by Latinos Unidos de Newark (LUNA)

San Jose:

Event: Cinco de Mayo Celebration with Maestro Victor Hugo Santos (kids' song & dance)
Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Location: Community Room, Edenvale Branch Library, 101 Branham Ln E, San Jose, CA 95111
Admission: Free
Contact: Edenvale Branch Library (408) 808 3036

Sponsored by Friends of Edenvale Library

Event: Parade & Festival
Date: Sunday, May 3
Time: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Location: Guadalupe River Park Discovery Meadow & Plaza de Cesar Chavez
Admission: Free
Contact: American GI Forum (408) 288 9470

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