It's Cinco de Mayo! And while you may be celebrating with a fiesta later tonight, we pulled together a few trivia questions to see how much you know about Cinco de Mayo and our Mexican neighbors…
What Historic Event Does Cinco de Mayo Celebrate?
Contrary to popular American belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16, the day in 1810 when the 11-year Mexican War of Independence began. Rather, Cinco de Mayo celebrates an event in Mexican history that occurred more than 50 years after Mexicans declared their independence from Spain. And it all boiled down to a conflict over an unpaid debt.
Its economy shattered by the Mexican-American War, Mexico was hard put to pay its debts to European countries that had lent it money in the past. When Mexican President Benito Juarez suspended repayment on these debts, an invasion force made up of troops from three countries -- France, Spain, and Britain -- landed at Veracruz determined to collect what was owed them. While Spanish and British troops later withdrew after a compromise repayment agreement was reached, French troops pushed on toward Mexico City.
On May 5, 1862, French General Charles de Lorencez led 7,000 French troops into battle against a ragtag Mexican force of 4,000 led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza near the city of Puebla. Despite their superior numbers and training, the French troops were no match for their Mexican opponents, who excelled at guerrilla warfare. Cinco de Mayo marks the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla.
Did the Battle of Puebla Put an End to the French Threat?
The embarrassing French loss at the Battle of Puebla redoubled the determination of French Emperor Napoleon III to make the Mexicans pay, in more ways than one. He sent thousands more French troops to Mexico and eventually succeeded in seizing power in Mexico City, where Austrian-born Maximilian of Habsburg was installed in 1864 as emperor of what Napoleon III hoped would be a French client state. Although Maximilian had control over much of Mexico from the country's capital, Liberal forces led by Benito Juarez maintained power in northwestern Mexico and also along parts of the country's Pacific Coast.
Over the next couple of years, Liberal forces were victorious over Maximilian's army in numerous battles, and it soon became clear they would eventually take the capital. France gradually withdrew its support of Maximilian, who was arrested, tried, and executed when Mexican forces led by Juarez regained power in 1867.
How Was the French Intervention Viewed in Washington, D.C.? The French intervention in Mexico occurred at the same time as the U.S. Federal government and its troops were engaged in a bloody Civil War with the forces of the Confederacy, Southern states that sought to secede from the Union. Lincoln and his cabinet members worried that France, Britain, or another European power might come to the aid of the South, which could easily have tipped the balance of power in favor of the Confederacy. To help prevent that, U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward took great pains to maintain harmonious relations with France, thus discouraging France -- or its client-state Mexico -- from establishing diplomatic ties with the Confederacy.
Where is the World's Largest Cinco de Mayo Celebration Held? Looking for the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world? Look no further than Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles, where hundreds of thousands of people come out for food, music and crafts in a celebration of Hispanic heritage. But you know where Cinco de Mayo isn't a huge deal? Mexico. While Mexican students are taught in school about the Battle of Puebla and its role in Mexican history, Cinco de Mayo is actually an official holiday in only one of Mexico's 31 states -- Puebla, which was the site of the battle. Across the border in the United States, however, the holiday has come to be a celebration of Mexican ethnic identity and, as such, a day of pride for Mexican Americans, as well as all Americans who love margaritas, tequila, burritos, tacos, and guacamole.