Feliz Cinco de Mayo from Belize!
Chaa Creek wishes our many friends in Mexico, the USA, here and around the world a very Happy Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May celebrations).
Cinco de Mayo holds a special place for Belizeans not only because of our close proximity to Mexico and the large Spanish speaking population, but due to the similarities between the Battle of Puebla and our own Battle of St George’s Caye - that defining moment in Belize’s history and the beginning of the long road to independence in 1981.
Just as with the Baymen at St George’s Caye, the Mexicans at Pueblo met and conquered a vastly superior foreign invasion force – in this instance the French Army, which hadn’t been defeated in over 50 years – in an act that galvanised the people, kick-started patriotism and helped define the nation.
And, in further similarities, both Mexico and Belize celebrate these victories as the lead up to, but separate from their Independence Day celebrations, which are September 21st in Belize and September 16th in Mexico.
To give a brief recap:
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, which took place during the French occupation of Mexico in 1861.
Due to the costs of several previous wars, Mexico was bankrupt and left with a huge international debt. The Mexican government successfully negotiated with Britain and Spain, but France, under Napoleon III, decided to use the debt as an excuse to invade and expand France’s Empire into Latin America.
The French landed a large force at Vera Cruz late in 1861 and began marching inland towards Mexico City.
However, when the 8,000 strong French battalion reached the town of Puebla, they encountered strong resistance from a much smaller (around 4,500) and poorly equipped Mexican Army defence force.
The French attacked, expecting an easy victory, but were decisively defeated by the Mexicans on the Fifth of May 1862.
This was a massive moral boost for the Mexican people, and although the French did eventually, a year later and with 30,00 troops this time, capture Mexico City and install the hapless Emperor Maximillian I as ruler, the Mexican resistance remained very much alive, finally recapturing Mexico City after three years of French rule (from 1864 to 1867).
On June 5, 1867 Benito Juarez retook Mexico City and Mexico was on its way to nationhood.
What stands out about the Battle of Puebla is that not only did a small force of Mexicans defeat a much larger professional French force, but it marks the last time that any country in the Americas was invaded by a European military power.
In the US, the battle is important because it has been assumed that if the Mexicans didn’t win, the French may have taken advantage of the American Civil War to back the Confederacy and occupy parts of the present day US.
So yes, Cinco de Mayo is kind of a big deal, to quote Ron Burgundy.
And yes, as neighbours who began their march towards independence under very similar circumstances and celebrate a victory over a much larger invasion force as part of their national celebrations, Belizeans join Mexico and Mexicans everywhere in Cinco de Mayo celebrations that are now being held around the world. It’s huge in the US, with over 150 official celebrations in 21 states, and is observed from Canada to Japan with even the Australian city of Brisbane having a large annual Mexican Festival on that day.
So enjoy the day, amigos, and know that your close neighbours to the south are celebrating with you.