Cinco de Mayo is my second favorite holiday. I have to be honest and admit that when I was in college my fascination with the holiday began because I developed a love for tequila and always had a love of Mexican food. As I matured and became an adult who looks much more deeply at the world around me, I felt the need to educate myself on what the day truly commemorated and I became a thousand times more enamored with the holiday.
No, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day as many people think and carry on fueling the day with margaritas. The holiday celebrates the defeat of Napoleon III and his French forces at the Battle of Puebla. I won’t give you a lengthy history lesson and wave my mommy finger at you, because I know we are ALL anxious to get to our
Coronas Modelos (thanks 2020).
Here’s the short version. While the American Civil War was raging across the border, Mexico was in debt to a bunch of countries in Europe. France came to collect what was owed to them by force with a whole Game-of-Thrones-worthy subplot to do some colonizing and get in good with the Confederate Army, who were looking like they were doing pretty well at the time. France would upgrade the Confederate’s weapons and help them win in exchange for the cotton that the Union was blocking from being exported from The States, and probably some more side hustles.
Instead of the easy Victory that France expected, they got their asses handed to them by a handful of Mexican volunteer soldiers. If it weren’t for those soldiers the American Civil War very likely could have gone TOTALLY different. France probably would have tipped the scales, allowing the Confederates to win and maintain slavery. California Mexicans, who were strongly against slavery (Mexico had abolished slavery 36 years before the United States), knew this was a huge win in the fight to abolish the monstrous practice and began to give their hard earned cash to help support the Union and also encouraged other Mexican abolitionists to send their support. Cinco de Mayo became a celebration of the Mexican contribution to the outcome of the Civil War.
The French did come back stronger and occupied Mexico for a short time but President Lincoln made it clear he was NOT cool with this. We saw what you were trying to do. France pretty much didn’t want those problems so they bounced, but Napoleon left one of his guys in Mexico, maybe thinking it could work out later but Mexico was like I think NOT and captured him and executed him.
So now you know what Cinco de Mayo is actually about and why I love it so much. Yes, I get my fill of tequila and tacos. Yes, the timing of the holiday at the beginning of May also makes me excited for the warmth of the coming summer. Yes, it coincides with the beginning of my personal drink menu switching to my summertime line up of margaritas and rosé and all things light and fresh and fruity. But most importantly it reminds me that this one battle could have meant that my life might look very different than it does today. It means that fewer generations of Black Americans suffered the atrocities of slavery than otherwise might have. It’s an acknowledgement of Mexican and Mexican America’s role in my history as a Black American. I raise my salt-rimmed glass to the Mexicans and Mexican Americans who knew that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE.”