MONDAY, MAY 5: Sink your teeth into a warm chalupa topped with queso fresco, take in the vibrant colors and get your feet moving to some mariachi music—it’s Cinco de Mayo! Literally the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo originated with a small number of Latinos in the United States, who were celebrating a Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Today, Cinco de Mayo parades and street fairs are in full swing around the globe, from Canada and the Caribbean to Australia, France and even Japan. In Mexico, the holiday is primarily observed in east-central Mexico, where Puebla is situated.
THE BATTLE OF PUEBLA
The year was 1862, and both America and Mexico were in the midst of war. For Americans, a civil war was threatening to tear the country apart; to the south, the greatest military force in the world—the French army under the orders of Emperor Napoleon III—was attacking a Mexico in financial ruin. The French interest in Mexico was twofold, however: although victory over an indebted Mexico would be satisfactory, becoming an ally with the current United States South would likely split the country and, in turn, would halt its expansion and power. If Napoleon III had been successful in defeating Mexico and setting up a puppet regime there, his next step would have been encouraging a division of the United States into two, less-powerful, countries.
It was on May 5, 1862, that history made a seemingly impossible turn. General Laurencez led thousands of French troops toward Puebla, Mexico, to face General Ignacio Zaragoza and his much smaller body of troops. What’s more, most of the Mexican “soldiers” were simple agricultural workers, armed with whatever weapons they could find. Yet when the French troops traveled through ditches and ruins, they met an unyielding Mexican army. Led by Gen. Zaragoza, the Mexican forces continued to “chase” the French, all the way to the coast.
As summarized by TIME magazine, “The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath.” Mexico’s President declared that each year would bring an anniversary, “Battle of Puebla Day” or “Battle of Cinco de Mayo.”
A DELICIOUS HERITAGE:
CHALUPAS, MOLE & MORE
Did you know that only two international cuisines have earned a spot on the esteemed UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage—and that one of them is Mexican? (For those of you wondering, the other is French.) That’s right, homemade salsa verde, warm corn tortillas and lamb barbacoa (smoked underground, in banana leaves) are just a few of the dishes contributing to one of the most highly regarded culinary scenes in the world.
As pointed out in this article from Smithsonian.com, authentic Mexican food bears little resemblance to its Americanized fast-food counterparts. Puebla, in particular, has been renowned for its slow-cooked, traditional food since long before Spanish explorers entered the territory; afterward, Spanish nuns invented some of Mexico’s premiere dishes by combining ancient traditions with new ingredients. Today, celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Mark Bittman consider Mexico a top destination for food inspiration.
IN THE NEWS:
BORDER MASS SUPPORTS
Last month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops conducted a mass along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, honoring the thousands who have died in the attempt to cross the border. “We are here today to say they are not forgotten,” said Boston Archbishop Cardinal O’Malley, during his homily, as reported by Public Radio International. The Catholic Church has shown strong favor for immigration reform, and Pope Francis, in particular, emphasized this issue during a recent visit with President Barack Obama.