Grab a margarita and sit back, because here’s a history lesson on the Mexican holiday “Cinco de Mayo.” Psst… it’s more Texan than you think.
First of all, let’s clear up the misconception that this is Mexico’s Independence Day….it’s NOT! All this time, you’ve been throwing fiestas thinking you were celebrating “Dia de la Independencia,” but that’s on September 16. “Cinco de Mayo” actually honors the Battle of Puebla in 1862 when the Mexican Army was led to victory by, none other than, a native-born Texan.
But our story begins years before that in the town of Goliad, TX near Presidio La Bahia, where the Goliad Massacre took place. Outside the walls of this historic Spanish fort (in Texas, I repeat!), General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza, the hero of “Cinco de Mayo,” was born in 1829. His childhood home is now the reconstructed Zaragoza House.
A smart, young nino - Zaragoza joined the military and moved to Matamoros, Mexico before the Texas Revolution and fought in one of Mexico’s most important battles — The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. You see, Mexico was in major debt coming off a civil war in 1860, so the president called a two-year halt on paying back debts to France, Spain and Britain. The three countries decided to attack the small, war-torn Mexico hoping to take control, but Spain and Britain withdrew after seeing how determined and well-equipped the mighty French Army was.
Napoleon III (nephew of the Napoleon you’ve heard of) sent 6,000 French troops to Mexico, hoping to not only receive debt payments but also to invade the country and rule it. Mexican General Zaragoza (our fellow Texan) heard they were coming to Puebla, so he gathered up all the men he could and formed a little army to defend the city. It seemed like suicide for such a small group of men to stand against such a powerful legion of French troops twice its size.
The Battle of Puebla lasted the entire day of May 5. In the end Zaragoza and his skilled soldiers defended the city and won the battle, killing over 400 French men and losing only 86 of their own. Zaragoza became a national hero!
Well, the story doesn’t go well from there. Zaragoza died of fever and France went on to capture Mexico City and win the war. However, the bravery of that little battalion of men and their leader proved that Mexico was not to be messed with and ignited hope in the hearts of the Mexican nation. They eventually won their independence back from France in 1867.
To show their appreciation to Zaragoza and his Texas roots, the citizens of Puebla, Mexico dedicated a statue of the General in Goliad, TX, his birth place. So today, when you’re toasting your margaritas and eating your tacos, take a moment to appreciate the bravery and courage this day represents. And it’s all because of a Texan you’ve likely never heard about. Viva Tejas!