By very special request, I have sat down to talk about why Cinco de Mayo is the most American Holiday – on one of the most American days – there could be.
Our story begins with a simple question: Why exactly were the French fighting in Mexico in 1862?
When you understand how we got to that moment, when the French thought that they could use Mexico as a tool for international intrigue, the complicated relationship between the US, our “friends” the French and our neighbor Mexico one can begin to see that when the 5th of May rolls around, there’s more reason for Americans to celebrate than you might think.
So… let’s take a trip back in time and talk about the 5th of May, 1862…
The recent flap over the Sinclair Group’s latest’s… stunt(?), would actually be funny if not for the reaction to it. The idea that NPR, leading the charge of ridicule, finally cares about the repetition of the media would be laughable if it wasn’t so hypocritical.
Villanova won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Yay. I actually have an emotional connection to ‘Nova winning, but at the same time, I have watched the fiasco that it is NCAA Basketball this season and I am left to wonder how long it will be before the wildcats have to vacate their newest trophy?
On a weirder note, the star of the game has come a long way. He was not a highly recruited player, and he was on the bench two years ago when ‘Nova won the last time. So what is the discussion this morning? His rather offensive and deviant Twitter account…
Much like the Teacher walk-outs are a stunt designed to influence the mid-term elections in November, so is the March from Central America. But what I noticed is that nobody, and I mean NOBODY, is making the connection that should have been the first thing that popped into our minds, which brings us back to the Sinclair Denouement…
A few years back, Dave got into a rather frank (bordering on direct) conversation over whether or not ‘Mericans should care about, let alone celebrate Cinco de Mayo. So we delve into the archives and replay the Cinco de Mayo, May 5th Show, which deals with the French invasion of Mexico and the American Civil War. All of that ties together why the 5th of May should be as American and Mexican Holiday as any other. And also why tequila is so great!
The Original Version:
The 2018 Version:
I get it. People are always looking for a way to complain about Cinco de Mayo and how “un-‘Merican” the celebration is.
May the 5th is a day which could be celebrated as one of the most American days there is. From the Battle of Puebla, which traces its root cause to the Monroe Doctrine, to Alan B. Shepherd, hurtling into outer space as the first man to reach for the moon. And yes, I know that most of you believe that Yuri Gagarin was first, but how many of you know the reason the Soviets kept the details of his flight secret? Do you understand that it is the west, with its tradition of openness and taking chances that meant that Gagarin’s flight was conducted entirely in secret, while Shepherd was launched on live Television for the world to see?
On May 5, 1862, General McClellan had commenced his ill-fated and ultimately failed Peninsula Campaign. The idea was that by avoiding a direct land line to Richmond, the Confederates would surrender. On May 5th, McClellan hurled his troops at Williamsburg, a small colonial town where the first Virginia legislature had met, guarded by a Confederate General who was once an actor and a master of disguise and props. For days he had marched his limited and small number of troops in circles and had others cut down trees, carve them into the shape of cannons and place them on the defenses. Eventually, the Union overwhelmed the small defense, and proudly proclaimed a “victory over superior forces,” as McClellan himself termed it.
In Mexico, the French were marching in much the same manner towards Mexico City, again the presumption is that if they took the Capitol, the opponent would give up. At a small town named Puebla, the Mexicans gained a seemingly minor victory that merely delayed the French on their way north. But like Williamsburg, the battle provided a much-needed morale boost. It rallied Mexico to the fight and helped them to understand that they could beat the French.
And when you ask that most important question, the eyes really open up – Why were the French in Mexico in 1862 to begin with?
The answer is pretty simple – Empire.
The French saw an opportunity, with America engaged in its own Civil War, to take advantage of the situation and blow up the Monroe Doctrine. The Congress of the United States knew what was going on, and even sent a warning to the French that we were busy at the moment, but we don’t like what you’re up to. The presumption was and remains, that France, while technically neutral in the Civil War, would have preferred a Confederate victory in the war. And with the way the war went over the next year and two months, one has to see that a quick French victory in Mexico could have been big trouble for the Union.
And yet, a small army of Mexicans held off the French and delayed them. And convinced the Mexicans to continue the fight even after Mexico City fell. When Americans of Mexican descent living in California heard about the Battle and the victory, they fired their guns in the air to celebrate. And to this day in the area around the City of Puebla, the battle is celebrated.
But here in the US, the day has become a lightning rod of controversy. Is it an American drinking holiday or a Mexican culture day?
Neither. It is a day when Mexico helped the Union to win the Civil War. So why can’t we celebrate that with some Mexican music and tequila?