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Celebrating Cinco de Mayo: Significance and History

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican victory over French forces, impacting U.S. history. President Biden to host White House reception. Library of Congress resources available.

On a sunny Sunday, four young individuals raise their glasses filled with tequila in a toast. Little do they know, they are commemorating the 162nd anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, which sparked the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

The significance of this holiday extends beyond just Mexican history, as it played a crucial role in shaping events in the United States as well. The origins of the Battle of Puebla can be traced back to Mexican President Benito Juarez's decision to halt payments on foreign debts owed to the UK, Spain, and France in 1861. While the UK and Spain reached agreements with Mexico, France saw an opportunity to expand its influence and demanded more than just repayment.

As the French forces advanced towards Puebla, a financially struggling Mexico was not expected to put up much of a fight. However, under the leadership of Texas-born general Ignacio Zaragoza, a small and unorganized Mexican army achieved a remarkable victory over the French, forcing them to retreat and call for reinforcements.

The implications of this victory were felt across the ocean in the United States. At a time when the Union was embroiled in a civil war with the Confederacy, a French victory in Puebla could have led to a potential alliance with the South. Fortunately, the defeat of the French forces put a hold on any such plans, allowing the Union to gain the upper hand in the conflict.

In the years following the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo celebrations began to take root in California and other parts of the Southwest. These celebrations served as a reminder of the contributions of California Latinos to the Union cause and their support for Mexican President Juarez's army.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated in the United States, especially among the over 37 million residents of Mexican descent. While not an official holiday in Mexico, its significance in the U.S. has made it a day to honor Mexican-American culture and heritage.

As we reflect on the historical significance of Cinco de Mayo, it is essential to explore primary sources such as the recent acquisition of Mexican letters by the Library of Congress. These letters provide a deeper understanding of the Battle of Puebla and its impact on the second French intervention and the U.S. Civil War.

In conclusion, Cinco de Mayo is not just a day to enjoy festivities and food but a time to remember the resilience and courage of those who fought for freedom and independence. So, as we raise our glasses in celebration, let us also raise our awareness of the historical events that shaped this day. Cheers to Cinco de Mayo!

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