The celebration of the Battle of Puebla i.e. “Cinco de Mayo” is it relevant or not? Though we contemporary Mexican Americans have a tendency to romanticize the events that led to the Battle of Puebla, we owe it to ourselves to seek the truth of the matter on that fateful day. The romanticize version of “Cinco de Mayo” may not have any more validity, as does the Texas version of the “Battle at the Alamo”. Both are high on hype and short on truth.
History records different reasons for the battle on the 5th of May 1862.
In 1862 Benito Juarez was the President of Mexico. He was a full-blood Indian. President Juarez was determined to improve the life of the Indigenous tribes that were enslaved and impoverished by the conquest. This placed Juarez in opposition to the Catholic Church and the Mexican Aristocrats. They owned all the land and wealth of Mexico while the majority of the Indians were nothing less than slaves or serfs.
The Facts as we know them
France, England, and Spain had joined together to invade Mexico. The pretext that Mexico had unpaid debts to all three. When they landed in Vera Cruz, the tri-powers took over the town and raided the entire treasury. They divided the money amongst themselves. England took its money and went back to England, Spain, under the control of a Dictator, at that time, also decided to go home. Only France decided to march to Pueblo and take over Mexico. They had other plans.
Meanwhile, President Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s successor, was busy carrying out Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation policy of freeing the Black slaves and spreading the ideas of Democracy embodied in the Constitution. This was anathema to the Monarchies and Dictatorships existing in Europe and to the Catholic Church and the Wealthy Aristocrats that controlled Mexico. The Aristocracy would rather turn the country over to French Royalty than have President Benito Juarez free the Indian slaves and take their land and wealth to give to the poor Mestizos and Indians!
The French lost the battle at Puebla and went back to Vera Cruz. The Aristocracy and the Catholic Church then implored Louis Napoleon III to march on Mexico. They would rather be rich and wealthy and turn the country over to the French than have Democratic Government in power. In the end, Maximillian of Austria, and Princess Charlotte were installed as rulers of Mexico. Their reign was to last three years and Mexico began its long trek to self-government and Democracy.
Has anything really changed in Mexico? Five billionaires currently control most of the wealth and power of Mexico. The government is corrupt and the people remain desperately poor. To date they still find themselves as slave-wage workers living on the extreme margins of existence.
Perhaps, it is best we leave the Cinco de Mayo celebrations to the beer companies on this side of the border. Mexicans really don’t have much to celebrate. Not yet anyway.