By Raymond R. Beltrán
Little does the common San Diegan know about the history of what is being called Cinco de Mayo. In essence, what should be referred to as the Victory at Puebla, where 4,500 Mexican soldados proved a superior force against approximately twice as many French troops, has been summed up, 142 years later, as the day when Old Town San Diego beer guzzling, sombrero-wearing gabachos drink the worst Jose Cuervo has to offer and stare at señoritas spinning around in extravagant green, white and red ranchera dresses, serving up Rockin Baja Lobster’s beer bucket for almost twenty dollars a pop.
What tourists, and those who are not in tune with an authentic, socially conscious connection to Mexican heritage, do not know is that it is very difficult to find a celebratory event commemorating the historic Battle of Puebla that took place in the early morning of May 5, 1862.
So, in my search to interview university professors, community residents and beer companies, in particular that have hallmarked Mexican martyrs to make a quick million, minimal information seemed to have bounced back my way.
I do not attribute this apathy to the lack of compassion for our victorious founding padres to the Mexican, and or, Mexican American individual, because their lack of compassion is only a symptom of a deeper rooted problem which is the Americanization process. “Corona Cinco” in the Gaslamp District and Cinco de Mayo in Old Town, where you’re sure to get “music, margaritas [and] mariachis,” have contributed to the abduction of cultural and historical pride. It’s a wonder why it is currently being renamed “Cinco to Drinko.” Hence, in wanting to move on to impact our community with a fresh story idea, exclusive from the usual articles you, the reader, will most likely read, I’ve come to the conclusion that we must look back again, and again, in order to move forward to seek out that which can reawaken a sense of pride and self-respect in our gente.
In the 19th Century, before May 5, 1862, there was U.S. forces, Manifest Destiny, the U.S./Mexico War of 1846 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo in 1848. The greatest mistake one can make when commemorating Cinco de Mayo is titling it with the misnomer, “Mexican Independence Day.” After having battled over the borders that divide Mexico and the U.S., who had a Christian driven notion that God entitled the Northern American continent to European settlers, Mexico’s economy was drained by wartime loans from Spain, England, Great Britain and France, funds that were acquired by Mexico’s dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana.
In the end, the war between Santa Ana and the genocidal maniac, U.S. General Zachary Taylor, was resolved with Mexico quickly learning that the U.S. had flooded the southern states, California, New Mexico, Texas, etc., with enough gringos to strategically and numerically exile themselves from the notion of ever becoming Mexico again. Hence, the Debacle of Guadalupe Hildalgo was written, and Manifest Destiny granted Northern America to the gringos, the ones who presently celebrate Cinco de Mayo to boot.
What these historical wars did to Mexico, under Santa Ana, was create economic hostility with other European nations from afar, mainly the ones mentioned previously that loaned what is today $860 million (Richard Griswold del Castillo) to battle European nations next door. You have to understand that Mexico, preceding European invasions in 1492, has always been a shopping mall for European interest, a fact that still applies today, because the land was enriched with natural resources, mainly the idle rock called “gold,” that other countries depended on.
Now, Spain, England and Great Britain, countries that happened to cater to the arms of Napoleon Bonaparte at the time of his French Revolution, decided to close all accounts with Mexico and head home when they heard Bonaparte was going to stay, collect his debts and trample the South American continent for its worth. Bonaparte’s opportunistic logic was that with a weak Mexican economy, and its soldiers tired of fighting for their land in the northern regions, he wasn’t going to allow the U.S. to take control over one of the world’s largest distributors of natural resources. He was going to take the whole tamale.
Little did he know that true Mejicanidad was marinating within the Mexican population brewing with revolution between the only two political factions in Mexico, the liberals and the conservatives. For a time in the 1850s, liberal leaders like Benito Juárez, Melchor Ocampo, Ignacio Ramírez, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada and Guillermo Prieto managed to exile the “Serene Highness,” Santa Ana, and interject la Ley Juarez, la Ley Lerdo and la Ley Iglesias, named after José María Iglesias. The laws and Constitution of 1857 proposed the extraction of political power from the church and military and promoted land reform and a sense of equality within the Mexican population. And it is to this era that I myself would truly raise my bottle of Corona Extra, in genuine commemoration of those who succeeded for a short period of time in liberating Mexico from European political ideals.
Bonaparte deployed approximately 6,500 worn-out troops who had previously fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and they arrived in the Gulf of Mexico at a port in Veracruz, planning to charge through to Mexico City. This is the part in history that can become distorted, depending on who’s telling the tales. It is a fact that during this time, the United States - under Abraham Lincoln - didn’t know whether or not they wanted to continue enslaving black people, Africans, or not. The confederates and the abolitionists were fighting amongst themselves and hadn’t the resources to provide Mexico with anything helpful, something that historians dispute today.
French troops pushed forth toward Mexico City, by way of Puebla, but little did they know that a Mexican General, worth noting, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, would be waiting with an approximate 4,500-soldier strategy to combat the French General Charles Latrille Laurencez and his troops. The French were noted to have made many mistakes during the Battle of Puebla, including the use of has-been soldiers and the lack of resourcefulness with ammunition, ultimately leading to their defeat, then retreat. To Zaragosa’s right, Mexico’s future dictator, General Porfirio Díaz, destroyed a French unit moving in to flank the victorious Zaragosa and his Mexican compañeros.
It is important to note that in 1864, with the help of conservatives ,churches and former rich landowners who’d lost their land during Juárez’s reform, aided the French in invading Puebla, and ultimately Mexico City. This led to Bonaparte’s appointment of Emperor of Mexico Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, the former archduke of Austria who was then overthrown in 1867.
It is safe to conclude that Mexico, in all of its history, has never been able to stand as an autonomous state due to the waves of revolution and repression that continue to fluctuate today. We can safely say that it is more of a stepchild caught in a custody battle between neighboring countries and those afar, yet, while it battles over an equality based health care system today, and while 3,000 Mexicans die at the hands of the U.S. Border Patrol agents, and while the Mexican government’s headlock on liberation armies in the jungles of the indigenous state of Oaxaca have never been tighter, we find a reason to crack a bottle of beer here in the cozy US of A and salute to who knows what.