It is Tequila and Mini-Sombreros Day in America, hooray! It always seems like Cinco de Mayo should be Mexican Independence Day — dressing to match a national flag and getting wasted on a holiday named after its date on the calendar is how independence days are done, right? But today is actually the day when much of the United States unwittingly celebrates a Mexican military victory in 1862 over the asshole French army of Napoleon III that was in the process of trying to swoop in for some colonial sloppy seconds and take over the country (which they did, briefly). How did this become an American holiday? New historical research from a UCLA professor provides an idea of the celebration’s earliest appearance in the United States, and it is lovely.
[Professor David] Hayes-Bautista was culling Spanish-language newspapers in California and Oregon for vital statistics from the 1800s when he noticed how the Civil War and Cinco de Mayo battle were intertwined. He researches the epidemiology and demography of Latinos in California because he’s director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture.
“I’m seeing how in the minds of the Spanish-reading public in California that they were basically looking at one war with two fronts, one against the Confederacy in the east and the other against the French in the south,” Hayes-Bautista said in an interview with CNN.
“In Mexico today, Cinco de Mayo means the Mexican army defeated the French army,” he continued. “In California and Oregon, the news was interpreted as finally that the army of freedom and democracy won a big one against the army of slavery and elitism. And the fact that those two armies had to meet in Mexico was immaterial because they were fighting for the same issues — defending freedom and democracy. Latinos were joining the Union army, Union cavalry, Union navy.
“The French goal was to eliminate democracy, and remember that Mexico had democracy only for 30 or 40 years at that point,” he added. “Remember, Europe was ruled mostly by monarchs.”
French emperor Napoleon III “was no friend of the Union and was definitely a friend of the Confederacy and flirted with the Confederacy constantly with the possible recognition of the Confederate government,” Hayes-Bautista said. President Abraham Lincoln never referred to the Confederacy as a separate government: they were states in rebellion,” the professor said.
We’ll drink to that. [CNN]