Friday, May 05, 2006

"Armée mexicaine" and the history of the day 

Nobody sent me a memo, but at some point in the years since I have been married with children Cinco de Mayo became an American holiday.

There was not a parking place to be had at the MarketFair shopping mall on U.S. 1 outside Princeton this evening, apparently because people -- and not obviously Mexicans ones, at that -- were packing in to the bars and restaurants on account of Cinco de Mayo. It was almost as if they were spending the money they saved on May 1, and then some.

So, at some point when I wasn't looking, Cinco de Mayo became another St. Patrick's Day -- an all-American ethnic holiday, warped into a license to drink.

Now most people do not have the first clue what Cinco de Mayo celebrates. I'd wager that the typical gringo figures that it's the "Mexican Fourth of July," or maybe something vaguely socialist. Nope. It celebrates an important battlefield victory over -- *cough* -- the French.

Napoleon III invaded Mexico in 1862 on the pretext that Mexico had defaulted on loans, but his real reasons were more complex. Among other motives, France wanted to exploit American weakness during the Civil War and get a new foothold in North America, and, in fact, France did eventually manage to install a puppet government that persisted for three years before its eviction in 1867. Early in that war, though, Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin led an outnumbered and disorganized band of Mexican militia armed mostly with machetes to an amazing victory over a much larger and better equipped French army. The date of the Battle of Puebla was May 5, 1862.

The French also remember the events Cinco de Mayo, but in the form of an expression, rather than a holiday. When a Frenchman refers to "l'armée mexicaine", he is describing a disorganized mob, literally or figuratively. Some Frenchman probably compared the Muslim riots of last November to l'armée mexicaine. Another might just as easily have described some undifferentiated group of workers at his company in those terms, as in "No wonder it's all screwed up -- they threw the Mexican army at the problem."

So, if you see John Kerry slurping beer and scooping guac on Cinco de Mayo, be sure to remind him that the day celebrates a military victory over one of our "traditional allies."


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat May 06, 01:52:00 AM:


Will Kerry & France get the Revenge too? Were's Ted on this day...it get's very scary  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat May 06, 05:04:00 AM:

Didn't the French come back the next year and kick the Mexicans in the butt.

I also read somewhere that the French were invited to Mexico by one of the warring factions, the one with the money.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat May 06, 06:20:00 AM:

Davod --

Yes, the Cinco de Mayo defeat was humiliating to Napoleon III, so he sent in 30,000 guys and did install his puppet government. And, yes, I believe there were internal Mexican politics involved.

But then the United States got the upper hand in the Civil War, and began supplying weapons to the Mexicans fighting to oust the French. After Appomattox, American "volunteers," battle-hardened from the fighting in Virginia and Tennessee, went to Mexico to help out. Napoleon III had, after all, grievously offended the Monroe Doctrine.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Sat May 06, 11:20:00 AM:

Tigerhawk, you might be interested in Mark in Mexico's take on the Battle of Puebla.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat May 06, 08:00:00 PM:

Hmm, what with the state of the current French military, I wonder if they would get their butts kicked again. It'd be close, but I'd bet on our next door neighbors if it was on their turf.

Just wondering.

t'other Ol' Dave  

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