Cinco de Mayo and All That
In addition to working with languages, I also do a fair bit of historical work. This weekend, therefore, we’ll have something a little different, with language notes sprinkled throughout.
This weekend people in the United States and in the Mexican State of Puebla celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which most non-Mexican-Americans presume to be “Mexican Independence Day,” the equivalent of the 4th of July.
That’s a nice and neighborly thought, and a great occasion for wonderful food and responsible use of refreshments. It’s a good money-maker for Mexican Restaurants too.
Only…it’s not their 4th of July, Canada Day (July 1) or Bastille Day (July 14), exactly; that is el 16 de septiembre (el dieciséis de septiembre). Virtually every city in México has a Calle/Avenida 16 de septiembre (Street/Avenue).
What’s this all about?
Most Americans think of the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock when they contemplate the beginning of the United States. Those of us of Hispanic, particularly Mexican, background, and especially from the Southwest, California and Florida, remember that in 1621 when the ship landed at Plymouth Rock, we had been here for a hundred years, and waved “welcome” to them (metaphorically).
I am Irish and Hispanic…in México, my name is written as Steven Armstrong Escontrias. That side of my family comes from El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, where they have been since the 1500s. Recently, in the Yucatán, I heard someone say (I can’t remember the exact Spanish), in regard to having two last names, “You have a Mother too!” Can anyone supply the idiom in Spanish? I know how to say that generally, but I believe there is a specific phrase.
Interestingly, the metropolitan area of El Paso–Juárez is second only to San Diego–Tijuana as the largest binational metropolitan region between our two nations. Of course, in México the names for these are Tijuana–San Diego and Juárez-El Paso, but the telling thing is that all four city names are in Spanish! We really are all family.
The celebration on the 5th of May commemorates the Mexican Army’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862, under General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.
México was suffering greatly in the 1860s after the Mexican-American War (following on the Annexation of Texas/Tejas), a Civil War and a War of Reform. President Benito Juárez declared a two year moratorium on repaying foreign debt to stabilize the economy. France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces, but the British and Spanish negotiated and left. Not so the forces of Napoleon III, who invaded. It isn’t entirely clear, but their motivation seemed to have several angles.
France needed cotton, and the Confederacy had supplied them with a lot, hoping for their support. Naturally, territorial expansion is a goal in itself, and finally, quashing anti-colonial revolutions had been in favor since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. To recover México for the crowned heads of Europe and destabilize the United States, whose Revolution started a trend, was a double bonus!
The French Empire in México was headed by the infamous Maximillian and Carlotta, Emperor and Empress. There was support for this French Occupation, particularly from wealthy Roman Catholics, who despised the Masonic President Juárez, as he did not favor them.
At Puebla on May 5, 1862, the Mexican Army defeated the French, much to the surprise of both, since the Mexican forces were half the size of the French. Although the French later succeeded in capturing the country, Puebla provided a rallying point for the nationalists. When the US Civil War was over in 1865, the U.S. began helping the Mexican resistance, and by 1867, México was free again, and Maximillian and some of his Generals were executed.
Therefore, it is quite appropriate for the US (and Puebla) to celebrate our shared heritage, and Hispanic Culture, as this symbolizes the return of friendship between the two Federal Republics. So celebrate…responsibly!
So What does el 16 de septiembre Commemorate?
The real Mexican Independence Day commemorates the Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores/Sorrows”) or El Grito de la Independencia (“Cry of Independence”), in Dolores, near Guanajuato on September 16, 1810 by the Roman Catholic Priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The version of the proclamation (as used today–it cannot be his actual words) is:
¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Viva la independencia nacional!
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!
Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live National Independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!
(I have always thought that the Spanish custom of putting the reversed exclamation point and question mark in front of the sentence is one of the most practical and reasonable punctuation devices in the world!)
This was the catalyst for the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, which began four days later at The Battle of Guanajuato. Ten years of war finally resulted in the Mexican Declaration of Independence.
This September, tip your hat southwards and pause a moment for the real Mexican Independence Day, and the wave of Independence that it was a part of! (We’ll talk about that wave, next!)
— Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant