Cinco de Mayo deserves a party
May 5, 2003
Cinco de Mayo to most gringos means another excuse to wash down chips and salsa with a Mexican beer. In South Lake Tahoe it is just another day — there are no community festivities planned.
There is a large population of Mexicans here. Undoubtedly families will have private celebrations.
There was a time when South Lake Tahoe acknowledged the events of May 5, 1862. It was so long ago people are not sure when the last South Shore Cinco de Mayo celebration was.
On this date 141 years ago, 4,000 Mexican soldiers obliterated 8,000 French and the traitor Mexican army at Puebla, Mexico — a town 100 miles east of Mexico City. The actual number of soldiers on either side changes depending on what reference is used.
There has been confusion north of the border in thinking May 5 is Mexican Independence Day, when in fact that day is in mid-September. Nonetheless, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of freedom and liberty.
It was a contentious time in the world. The United States was consumed with its Civil War.
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It was the French who the Mexicans were fighting. They, along with the Spanish and English, were in town to collect on unpaid debts. The English and Spanish settled their financial differences with the Mexicans, but the French hung around.
The French soldiers, getting their orders thousands of miles away from Emperor Napoleon III, had designs to make their presence permanent. They obviously failed.
The French, even then, had little regard for the United States. Because of the Civil War, the French believed the United States would have little interest on what was going on south of them.
After Gettysburg, Union forces and ammunition were brought south to help oust the French.
Before May 5 was over, one fort was in ruins and more than a thousand French soldiers were dead. Even though the Mexicans had not won the war, the significance of the battle was dully noted. The symbolic nature of the Mexicans’ determination against such a powerful army is worthy of commemoration.
A statue of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza was erected in the former battlefield that has been turned into a park in Puebla. A display at the museum details the events that happened that day.
Even though May 5 is a Mexican national holiday, it is in the United States where the celebration is more festive. The hearty celebrations in Mexico are mostly in the state where the battle was fought.
It is worthy to note the strength of the Mexicans. They have been good neighbors and deserve to be recognized.
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