Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011



On your last trip to your local supermarket, you might have noticed an extraordinary amount of red, white and green banners, bunting and posters...all reminding you that May's Most Important Day is fast approaching!  Yes, America, CINCO DE MAYO is just around the corner!  So...what are you doing reading this?  Go back to the market and start buying lots of chips & salsa!  Start rolling up bunches of burritos with gobs of guacamole! Why?  Because Mexico's Independence Day is coming!  And...just think...if we're going bonkers, one can only imagine the crazy parties on the other side of the border...right?

Wrong!  In fact, CINCO DE MAYO isn't even a Mexican National holiday.  Nor does it have anything to do with Mexican Independence at all.  Confused?  Well, let's straighten things out. (That's what the DUNER BLOG is for!)  We'll start on September 16th, 1810.  This was the date when Father Miguel Hidalgo read his famed 'Grito de Delores' speech which declared Mexico's independence from Spain.  Hence, this date is their biggest National Holiday. Everyone from Tijuana to Tampico celebrates triumphantly.  However, the other holiday, the Fifth of May, denotes the day when the BATTLE OF PUEBLA occurred back in 1862.  It was a fierce encounter: 2,000 Mexican soldiers soundly defeated 4,000 invading (and much better armed) French troops outside the strategic city of Puebla. 

So why is this one battle so important to Mexico?  Well, it really isn't.  In fact, CINCO DE MAYO has more to do with AMERICAN CIVIL WAR than any Mexican war.  In the 1860's, the French emperor NAPOLEON III (Bonaparte's nephew) was interested in rejuvenating his crumbling North American empire.  When the Civil War erupted in the USA, he saw his chance.  Although the first invasion failed after the Battle of Puebla (France's first military defeat in 50 years), the following year he sent a much larger army and got the job done: France conquered Mexico.  A proxy government under the rule of MAXIMILIAN was created.   Next up in Napoleon's 'grand scheme' was to move the army North...across the Rio Grande...aid the Confederacy...reclaim the LOUISIANA PURCHASE...and have everyone speaking French again!!

Well, few people parlez Francais in the Western Hemisphere today....so what happened?  First of all, the Union armies annihilated the Confederacy in four short years. So that part fizzled out.  Meanwhile, back in Europe, Prussia was preparing to invade France.  Napoleon III changed his mind and ordered troops to return home to protect the motherland.  An abandoned Maximilian fled in exile and Mexico regained her sovereignty. Shortly afterward, in 1871, the nation elected a new president named PORFIRIO DIAZ.  He was wildly popular as the 'Hero of the Battle of Puebla.'  During the conflict, his troops not only defeated the French but also chased them back across the Atlantic.  (Never mind that they returned a year later and proceeded to defeat, capture and imprison Diaz for years!)  Anyhow, eager to have a national holiday to celebrate his greatness, Diaz turned CINCO DE MAYO into a day of new national pride.  OlĂ©!

Amazingly, Diaz went on to win six more presidential elections (!) and remained in power for almost 40 years.  As expected, fraud and embezzlement were rampant during his reign and Diaz was finally toppled in 1910 when the Mexican Civil War began.  These days, most Mexicans look back at this era (called the Porfiriato) with disdain.  Diaz built lots of ornate, wrought iron bandstands and opulent marble opera houses but not many schools or hospitals.  It's true, his dream of turning Mexico into a European style monarchy is pretty silly.  Hence, Mexicans don't care for his pretend holiday, CINCO DE MAYO, either.  However, across the border, Americans have adopted this day as a way to celebrate the Inner-Mexican inside all of us.  So...join in...crack open an ice-cold CORONA and shout: "Odio a Francia!" (I hate France!)

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