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Cinco de Mayo: an American tradition

Cinco de Mayo: an American tradition

The holiday is not Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16

Photo: A woman dressed as a Zacapoaxtla Indian holds a machete as she dances before the start of a reenactment of the battle of Puebla, between Zacapoaxtla Indians and the French army, during Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico City, Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo)

By TATIANA PROPHET

As you tip up your discounted Corona for Cinco de Mayo, learn a little about the nation you are celebrating, and why you celebrate this holiday. No, it's not the Independence Day of our neighbor to the south.

Astoundingly, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale in the United States than it is in Mexico, because in Mexico, it is secondary to their Independence Day, which is September 16.

Brenda Hernandez, born in Los Angeles but whose family is from the state of Jalisco, said she was not celebrating tonight.

"I celebrate the independence of Mexico, but that's in September," she said. "That was just a Mexican victory by Puebla over France," she added, referring to the Fifth of May.

Hernandez is not alone in her knowledge of the history of the battle of Puebla. Nearly every Mexican child learns about it in school. For her part, she learned it from her mother, and also in school.

Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday commemorating the defeat of the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla, Mexico's fourth largest city and the site of one of its most celebrated cathedrals. In fact, the cathedral was already standing when the French landed in Mexico. They came with Britain and Spain to collect a debt, but while Britain and Spain negotiated a settlement and left, France, led by Napoleon III, pressed on militarily.

See Brownsville at the top and Puebla due south at the very bottom. The Yucatan Peninsula is to the east. Puebla was originally known as Puebla de los Angeles, but was changed to  Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza after the general's shocking defeat of the much larger French army.  Credit: Google Maps.

See Brownsville at the top and Puebla due south at the very bottom. The Yucatan Peninsula is to the east. Puebla was originally known as Puebla de los Angeles, but was changed to Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza after the general's shocking defeat of the much larger French army. Credit: Google Maps.

President Benito Juarez had already been forced to flee to the north, while the French occupied the port of Veracruz and advanced to Puebla with an army of 6,000 men, aiming to take the rest of the country. General Ignacio Zaragoza met the French with a force of 2,000, including bands of Indian women with machetes.

They routed the much larger force, which fled in defeat.

The victory was mostly symbolic; two year later, the French installed the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor. But  four years after that, France withdrew. And that same year, the "emperor" was captured and executed by firing squad.

Many immigrants from the city of Puebla came to the United States after the Mexican Civil War, joining their countrymen who had immigrated previously in making it the holiday that exists today.

In fact, on June 7, 2005, the United States Congress issued a concurrent resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

Perhaps they could do the same for Mexican Independence Day, one day. So on September 16, be sure to ask your local grocery store why they are not discounting Corona and Pacifico beer, both brewed in the Distrito Federal by a Belgian multinational corporation. And if you drink Dos Equis, Tecate and Bohemia beer, just know that all are a subsidiary of Dutch company Heineken International.

"Que Viva México!"

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