Cinco de Mayo – celebration of spirit of resilience
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” so said Mark Twain. As the world passes through this unprecedented phase in history, we are not sure what is rhyming or what has gone terribly out of tune, but as ever, resilience, hope, and humanity are living, perhaps not with the usual vigour, but yes, we are living and hoping for the best.
In our preoccupation with the coronavirus pandemic, we have sort of lost touch with time. For most of us, there are no names to the days – just a cycle of sunshine and darkness – the dawn of the new day being the operative word.
At this moment, observances and celebrations are on the back burner – from the holy month of Ramadan, the 175th anniversary of the Indian Arrival Day in Jamaica to Cinco de Mayo, a turning point in the history of Mexico. As the name suggests, it was on this day, on May 5, 1862, that the mestizo and Zapotec force under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French troops at the Battle of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City.
“In a sort of David against Goliath, the Mexican army, composed mostly of indigenous peasants armed with machetes and spears, commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza, defeated the powerful French army that had firearms and artillery under the command of General Lorencez,” said Juan José González Mijares, ambassador of Mexico to Jamaica.
In this bloody encounter, approximately 1,000 French troops were killed. Though the fighting continued, and the French were not forced out for another five years, the battle at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. The city was later renamed Puebla de Zaragoza.
Century of interventions
“The 19th century was decisive for the countries of the American continent and the Caribbean. Mainly it was during this period that most of the wars of independence against European power took place,” Ambassador Mijares said. “Also, we can consider this period as a century of interventions because there were also several attempts by the powerful countries to seize control over the nations of the region, which already were devastated by the independence wars and internal conflicts that sought to define the form that their governments should take: conservative supporters fought to institute monarchies, while liberal supporters defended the emergence of democratic republics.”
This battle was a turning point to establish some semblance of peace and harmony in Mexico.
Ambassador Mijares recalled that the country suffered multiple wars beginning with The Mexican War of Independence between 1810 and 1821, Texas Revolution (1835-1836) and Mexican-American War (1846-1848). At last during the 1860s, The Mexican conservative party, with the military support of Napoleon III of France, fought for several years to impose an empire under the command of the Austrian Maximilian of Habsburg while the liberal party led by President Benito Juárez defended the republic. The latter side was triumphant in 1867 after countless military failures.
The celebrations also percolated to Mexican expatriate communities in the United States.
“The victory of the Battle of Puebla meant the most celebrated Mexican civic festival in the United States mainly because civil society identifies “Cinco de Mayo” as the day to demonstrate the pride of having Mexican roots, making visible the various cultural manifestations that unite us as part of a common history shared by Latin American and Caribbean countries that make up an important part of the popular culture of the United States,” he said. “For that reason, it is customary to celebrate by eating tacos, drinking margaritas, wearing a hat, and listening mariachi music.”
According to Ambassador Mijares, May 5 is a special date for Mexicans in the United States that seeks to preserve the identity of the Latin American people. “At the same time,” he added, “this date is also important for the American authorities, who have supported this celebration as a sign of recognition and twinning with the Latino community in that country.
“Fifth of May is celebrated in Mexico because this date commemorates an act of reaffirmation of Mexican sovereignty,” he said, adding that most important, it is a lesson that “we can win every battle if we believe in the tremendous force of simple people making right”.
We are certain humanity will win this war against coronavirus, too.