What you’re really celebrating with Cinco de Mayo

It’s Cinco de Mayo! Yay! Let’s celebrate the defeat of the French by drinking Coronas and margaritas! Wait, what? The French? Isn’t Cinco de Mayo about, well, um, maybe, Independence? Or something? It’s Mexico’s most important holiday, isn’t it?
Actually, no.
While the United States was mired in the Civil War, the French (under Napoleon III) invaded Mexico. Landing at the Gulf city of Veracruz in January 1862, they began marching toward Mexico City. Along the way, they suffered a surprising defeat on May 5 (el cinco de mayo), 1862, in the city of Puebla at the hands of a small, poorly armed, disorganized army. This was a great victory for Mexico.
But one victory does not a war win, and the French charged on to Mexico City where they installed an emperor, Maximilian, and ruled Mexico for several years. After the US Civil War ended in 1865, the United States began supporting the Mexican Republicans. By 1866 with their troops losing battles, France announced their intention to withdraw from the country. In 1867, Maximilian was executed and the Mexican republic was restored.
But don’t let this new information impede your drinking this evening. I think it’s great that once a year Americans decide to pay attention to their friends south of the border and celebrate a piece of their tumultuous history. Just don’t think you’re celebrating Mexican Independence, because you’re not. That celebration begins on the evening of September 15 (September 16 being Mexican Independence Day) and goes on long through the night. Perhaps marketing executives felt that Mexico’s most important holiday shouldn’t be cheapened by crass commercialism and beer promotions, so they picked Cinco de Mayo to degrade instead. ¡Salud!