by May Herz
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!
Mexicans are truly festive; any excuse gives way for a celebration! But the most important and exciting are the 16th of September, Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo, the Fifth of May. They are good occasions to show the pride of being Mexican, the love of the Motherland, and the certainty of being a free country, thanks to the many men and women whose struggle made history.
The quest for independence started on the 16th of September 1810, following the will to become a free nation, no longer submitted to Spanish rule. The struggle went on for 10 years. Finally, in 1821, the first independent Mexican government was established.
Being an independent nation was not easy. Over the years, Mexico received economic support from several nations, France and England among them. Later on, even Spain supported the new country.
Thus, Mexico became indebted. Due to ongoing political unrest caused by many groups struggling for power, Mexico was not able to pay back the loans. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all-foreign debt payments would be suspended for a period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.
In 1862, the three European countries dispatched their fleets to Mexican shores pursuing not only money but also land and rights as payment for their loans. A government representative greeted them and explained that Mexico did acknowledge its debts, but it had no funds to pay them. They were offered payment warrants in exchange.
The Spaniards and the British decided to accept the warrants and withdrew from the scene. But the French government’s representative did not accept the offer and prompted his troops to invade the country and head toward Mexico City, the nation’s capital. They had to cross through the state of Puebla to get to the capital.
The Mexican President, Benito Juarez, reacted immediately and prepared the defense. He commanded Ignacio Zaragoza , a young and brave General, to fortify the City of Puebla and repel the French invaders.
The Battle was by no means equally balanced. France, under Louis Napoleon ‘s rule, had the most powerful army, and sent more than six thousand men to invade Mexico.But the courage and the love of freedom impelled the Mexicans to fight back.
General Ignacio Zaragoza led 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians called Zacapoaxtlas. On the 5th of May 1862, the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, in the city of Puebla, became the scene of the historical defeat of the great European army.
Although, history reminds us that this was a short-lived victory. Later, on May the 8th the attack resumed under the French command of General Francois Achille Bazaine and his French Foreign Legion. Puebla was captured and the way to Mexico City was now open.
The French invaded Mexico, and with the help of the Mexican Conservative party, Louis Napoleon imposed Maximilian of Hapsburg as Mexico’s emperor in 1864.
The Conservative party was formed by the Catholic Church, successful businessmen and merchants, and by great landowners. They wanted to preserve their privileges at all costs.
Ironically, Maximilian really was committed to this new country, and he shared the values of the Mexican Liberal Party, more than with those of the Conservatives. Because of his views, he lost the support of the Church and the rich. Sadly, at the end, Benito Juarez regained power and had Maximilian killed by an execution squad along with his Mexican generals Miramón and Mejía, in the Cerro de las Campanas, Queretaro.
The last words of Maximilian were: “I die in a just cause. I forgive all, and pray that all may forgive me. May my blood flow for the good of this land. Viva Mexico!“
On June 5 1867, Benito Juarez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a legitimate government and reorganized his administration.
This was the triumph of the Mexican Republic.
Nowadays, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated throughout the country, but very especially in the state of Puebla and in Mexico City.
There are military parades as a way of paying tribute to all the heroes, soldiers and civilians that gave their lives for their country. Schools participate in parades too. It takes months of rehearsal and preparation for marching bands to perform and compete among others to be the best. Parades are so popular that people wake up very early and rush to the streets seeking a good spot to watch and enjoy them.
In the Peñón de los Baños, a small barrio or neighborhood in Mexico City, very near the airport, the people organize a very popular representation of the Cinco de Mayo battle. This play is a tradition that the people of the Peñón have kept alive for many years. Some of the inhabitants play the French invaders and others the Mexican army. They even have fights with real gunpowder rifles! And sometimes they do get hurt.
Each city has a Zócalo, where celebrations take place and people of all ages enjoy themselves. The square livens up with music, laughter and vibrant colors.
Families with young children are the first to arrive. Later the young people will fill up the place.
No celebration can be complete without food. A few days before the big event, hundreds of stalls start aligning on the streets near the Zócalo of all the towns. Restaurants all over offer the most representative of Mexican cuisine: Mole Poblano. A thick spicy sauce that comes from blending more than 40 ingredients, and is spread on top of turkey or chicken and Mexican style red rice. Mole is so popular that it is served on nearly every important occasion.
There are usually shows in the squares where there are dancing and music with the ever so popular mariachi bands.
Everybody is there to have fun and make noise with whistles and rattles and horns. In most towns there are fairs set near the squares where people enjoy the rides and play games.
Cinco de Mayo ends with the traditional shouts of ¡Viva Mexico! and people looking forward to the next National Holiday: El 16 de Septiembre Día de la Independencia de Mexico” , where we’ll have the chance to celebrate once again!
Our Cinco de Mayo Video captures all of these gaiety and patriotism. You can really feel the festive atmosphere, see the people celebrating, and enjoying the food and music. You almost feel like you are there, celebrating with us!