Cinco de Mayo: Celebrating indigenous freedom
by the Rev. Valori Mulvey Sherer,
Diocesan Missioner for Hispanic/Latinx Ministry
May 2, 2023
In the USA, we mark Cinco de Mayo as if it’s the Mexican equivalent of our 4th of July, but it isn’t. According to the History Channel, “Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, a popular misconception. Instead, it commemorates a single battle”… called the Battle of Puebla. (Source) Puebla is a state in Mexico where reenactments of the battle are an ongoing tradition.
As the story goes, Benito Pablo Juárez García, had no choice as the newly elected President of Mexico but to default on some loans from European countries. In the meantime, Napoleon III of France, seized the opportunity presented by Mexico’s financial crisis, to try to colonize Mexico.
On May 5, 1862, President Juarez fortified the city of Puebla with a “rag tag” army of about 2,000 indigenous and mixed-race men to face the 6,000 men in Napoleon’s forces. It was a David vs. Goliath type battle, and David, i.e., Mexico won. “It was a great symbolic victory” if not a strategic one in the bigger picture. (Source)
First celebrated in the US in California in 1863, Cinco de Mayo was “mostly about fighting for democracy and freedom against white supremacists and other oppressors — both in Mexico and in Civil War-era California, where Latinos mostly favored a Union victory over the Confederacy” said, Dr. Lavariega Monforti of California State University. (Source)
Cinco de Mayo festivals in the USA today include parades, traditional music, dance, and foods. Learning and sharing in the joy, color, and sound of Mexican culture can be a doorway for all people to celebrate the beauty of diversity of indigenous peoples while standing firm against white supremacists and the continuing political practices of oppression, racism, and forced occupation.
¡Celebremos la fiesta!