Cinco de Mayo: Building A Modern Democracy

Since its inception Los Cien has always had the vision to build a better and more accessible democratic processes for our local constituents. To look forward into the future, requires a commitment of honoring and understanding our past shared histories. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday we celebrate that is meant to commemorate Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla where mostly Indigenous Mexicans bravely fought against the French. The battle was the result of Napolean III’s attempt to invade and conquer Mexico. Ultimately the battle, an important part of our shared historical memory represents a David vs. Goliath struggle. Persons of mostly Indigenous and Mestizo heritage fought with whatever they had on hand, and at first glance seemed ill prepared against a powerful, imperialistic enemy.

An elite French military force made its way to Mexico City and was stopped on May 5, 1862, at Puebla, a city located 80 miles southeast of Mexico City. The Mexican army were led by Texas-born general Ignacio Zaragoza under the presidency of Benito Juarez. Working with a small and rag tag army, they defeated the French forces. By temporarily losing to Mexico, France was unable to send support to the Confederate Army until it was too late to have a significant influence. If not for the Battle of Puebla, the Union may not have won the Civil War.

The Library of Congress reports that some celebrations happened as early as 1866 in Nevada yet it would be Mexican-Americans who would truly popularize the holiday. As Chicanas and Chicanos re-claimed their history in the 70s and leading into the 80s, Cinco de Mayo became a key date for Mexican-Americans living on the West Coast of the US. It wasn’t until the 1980s that corporations – mostly companies that produce alcoholic beverages – began to capitalize on the holiday as a “celebration” of Mexican culture and in some places the event lost its meaning as individuals focused more on the capitalistic aspects of the holiday. It is important to remember that Cinco de Mayo celebrations in California and in the US Southwest are illuminating to our democratic process today because Mexican-Americans were strong Union supporters and had helped finance Juarez’s army.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is valuable not only as Chicanos and Mexicans celebrate and remember their history yet as a reminder to all of us who are Latinx, Mexican, Indigenous and African-American that this short battle was significant in shaping history and influenced the democracy we live in here in the US.

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