May 5, 2000
By Raoul Lowery Contreras
If you drive by the strawberry fields of North County you see them crouched over, picking berries, weeding and tending row after row of the precious fruit we so like to eat. They don't look too menacing, despite the primal fear Pat Buchanan has of them. They are Mexican farm workers, mostly of mixed Indian and Spanish blood. They are mestizos. In the eyes of some, they are human mongrels.
"We are so superior to the Mexicans in race, in organization, in discipline, in morality, and in refinement of sensibilities, that as of this moment, at the head of our 6,000 valiant soldiers, I am already the master of Mexico." Who said this? Pat Buchanan? David Duke? No. It was General Comte de Lorencez, Napoleon III's commander of all French forces in the invasion of Mexico in January, 1862.
The racist view of Le Comte and his master, Napoleon III, is still shared by many, including some readers of this newspaper. When he made this statement in 1862, Le Comte headed, arguably, the finest Army in the world, an army undefeated in battle since the Battle of Waterloo, almost 50 years prior to Le Comte's stepping on Mexican soil. With trumpets blaring, Le Comte led his troops into the Mexican mountains, marching on Mexico City to conquer the mongrel nation led by a 100% Indian, President Benito Juarez.
The only force standing between Le Comte and the Mexican capital was a badly-armed gaggle of Indians, and mestizos led by a former shop clerk, "General" Ignacio Zaragoza. The Mexicans numbered amorphous 4,000 troops armed with about 2,000 rifles purchased from the British. The rifles had last been used at the Battle of Waterloo 48 years earlier.
Four thousand French infantrymen and a thousand horse-mounted Dragoons and 2,000 Mexican Conservative/Royalists, marched towards Mexico City. Tromp, tromp, tromp. Approaching the colonial city of Puebla, about a hundred miles from Mexico City, Le Comte was distracted by Mexican horse soldiers under the command of a fiery Coronel Porfirio Diaz. Insulted by pesky Mexican lightning-like guerilla raids, Le Comte ordered his "superior" Dragoons to chase the Mexicans down and slaughter them like rabbits.
Big mistake, Le Comte.
After allowing the ostrich-plumed Dragoons to chase them for miles, the Mexican horse soldiers pivoted, attacked and slaughtered the French cavalry. The French infantry attacked two Mexican forts through ankle deep mud in a valley surrounded by Mexicans and through heavy Mexican cannon fire. Le Comte watched while the "mongrels" butchered his troops, arguably the best in Europe. When the battle was over, one in four French troops lay dead or dying in the "Valley of Death."
Napoleon III's fervent wishes to conquer Mexico and to surround the hated United States of America with anti-democratic monarchist armies died in the valley outside Puebla. The French would never conquer all of Mexico. The Mexicans would fight and fight and the government never left Mexican soil. Americans would stream into Mexico carrying their victorious Civil War rifles and cannon with them. They would join in final Mexican victory in 1867.
Le Comte would leave Mexico in disgrace, as would, arguably, used to be the finest army in Europe. Le Comte's racist views would lie shattered in the Puebla mud and blood of Frenchmen. Napoleon III would disappear from history.
4,000 poorly-armed Mexicans affected world history that day, outside Puebla. They gave new meaning to the words mixed-race and freedom that day, the Fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo.
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