Ah, today calls to mind fond memories of my childhood, when the entire Hachecristo clan would gather around the Cinco de Mayo arbusto, decorated with exactly 5 ornaments made of mayonnaise jar lids.
My cousin, Jesus Hachecristo, and I would hang around under the table while the adults drank homemade pulque and Dos Equis or Bohemia beer, picking up fallen cards or poker chips and sneaking them to favored uncles in exchange for a sip of beer, which we sometimes kept the whole bottle of.
Then everyone would go outside and the blindfolded children – and some drunk uncles – would take wobbly whacks at piñatas of Napoleon III or Maximilian I, singing patriotic Mexican songs and Mayo carols, until someone got bored and shot the piñata, shattering the clay inside and showering the ground with coins and candy.
No, not really.
Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates Mexico winning the battle of Puebla in the 1860s over the French Army, which had not lost a battle since Napoleon. Unfortunately, they lost the war, so not many people in Mexico actually celebrate it.
The US had been imperializing at Mexico’s expense for some time (remember the Alamo?) and the Mexican-American War in the 1840s had left Mexico with a huge debt. Luckily, gold was discovered in California. Unluckily, California was now part of the US. Eventually, Mexico stopped paying its debts to Spain, Britain and France, so those three Great Powers sailed up to Veracruz and called their notes due.
Bill Collectors at the Gates!
Britain and Spain were persuaded to leave, but France had more than late fees on their mind. They invaded and, despite the short blip at Puebla where 4000 Mexicans defeated 8000 French, they did manage to win the war, and the French Emperor, Napoleon III, installed a Mexican Emperor, Maximilian I, as the head of a client state in America.
They only reason they were able to get away with this was that the Monroe Doctrine, while strongly supported by the US, was unfortunately unenforceable during a little internecine dust-up called the Civil War. Lincoln didn’t want to annoy France at the time, so Maximilian’s reign lasted just long enough for us to get our shtuff together, and support the Mexicans in driving him out a few years later.
Maximilian I at his Coronation
Meanwhile, back at Sutter’s Mill…
During the French conquest, news of the remarkable victory at Puebla had reached formerly Mexican citizens in the gold fields, who fired guns into the air, gave speeches, sang songs and got drunk, all in celebration of the Glorious Fifth of May. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that some Forty-niner Paul Harvey let them know the REST of the story. Nevertheless, Cinco de Mayo remained an important cultural holiday among California Chicanos and, eventually, became Mexican St Patrick’s Day for the rest of America.
Happy Cinco de Mayo
In Mexico, it’s only really noted around Puebla, and in the board rooms of certain breweries.
But, anyway, Feliz Cinco de Mayo from la familia Hachecristo. May your Fifths be Merry and bright. And may all your mayonnaise be white.