In 1862 Mexicans defeated the mighty French occupation army of Napoleon at the Battle of Puebla on the fifth of May - now popularly known as Cinco de Mayo. A year earlier President Benito Juárez had stopped payments on Mexico’s foreign debt, and Napoleon responded by invading Mexico. He sent his formidable army not only to guarantee continued debt payments, but also to crush Mexico and make it part of the French imperial empire. Juárez sent the army to confront the French at Puebla, and commanding the badly equipped Mexican soldiers was General Ignacio Zaragosa. The rag tag and ill-equipped army of 5,000 Mestizo and Zapotec Indians then proceeded to defeat the better equipped and highly trained French force of 8,000. The mightiest army in the world was trounced by Mexican peasants - a lesson that should not be lost in today’s present circumstances. General Ignacio Zaragosa was born in Texas when it was still part of Mexico, and so quite a number of people today regard him as the first Xicano hero.
The Battle of Puebla was not the final decisive clash that would eventually expel the invaders, in fact the Mexican army was eventually defeated. One year after Puebla, the French army remobilized and counterattacked, seizing Mexico city and installing Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg, who would rule Mexico for the next four years. Ultimately, troops loyal to President Juárez regained power and the French puppet Maximilian was executed. However, the “Batalla de Puebla” marked the beginning of the end for French colonialism in Mexico and the rise of Mexican national unity and patriotism. As Xicanos and Mexicanos celebrate this significant day with folkloric dance, mariachi music, parades, and other festivities… let us remember that at its core Cinco de Mayo represents the victory of the people over colonialism and imperialism. ¡Viva México! ¡Viva Juárez! ¡Viva el 5 de mayo!