Cinco de Mayo history lesson

Published 6:48 pm Friday, May 4, 2012

In college, I minored in history.

I picked it because it was easy. I thought.

History was always a subject I excelled at in high school. It was fairly interesting and the facts generally never changed. Christopher Columbus “discovered” America when I was in kindergarten, and he still discovered it when I was in high school.

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College history, much like everything else, is different. It’s harder. It’s more involved.

My minor might have been the most challenging schedule of coursework I undertook.

As such, I learned – or re-learned – a lot of things I thought I already knew.

Like Cinco de Mayo.

May 5 is pretty much like the Mexican Fourth of July, right?

Far from it.

The symbolism of Cinco de Mayo is much deeper rooted in numbers than the calendar.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the cause of Mexican freedom and democracy during the first five years of the Civil War; our Civil War, not theirs.

The day honors a poorly-equipped Mexican army who defeated what was largely considered the best army on the planet in 1862 – the French – despite being outmanned more than 2-to-1.

The victory itself was largely insignificant in the grand scheme of Mexico’s war with France. The victory was significant because it built a sense of national pride, something that previously never existed.

It was insignificant because over the next year, the French totally dispatched the Mexican army, seized its capital and installed their own emperor.

By 1865, with our Civil War over, the United States were able to provide more support to the Mexicans and they were finally able to drive the French from their country.

Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate that victory.

We’ve all heard the term, “celebrate the little victories.” Cinco de Mayo does just that.

Historically, it may not mean a lot to Americans other than it’s a good reason to party. To our neighbors to the south, however, it’s a day that commemorates a mighty struggle and an unlikely victory against all odds.

I hope you each enjoy your Cinco De Mayo celebrations Saturday. And, hopefully, now they will mean a little more knowing the history behind it.