Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Is Cinco de Mayo an American Civil War Holiday?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 5, 2014

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I can’t let May 5 slip past entirely without flagging an article from CNN, asking whether Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla (above, in reenactment) in 1862, is fundamentally an American Civil War holiday. David Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA School of Medicine, believes it is:

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Conventional thinking has held that the holiday — now a commercial juggernaut — may have grown out of the mass migrations from the bloody Mexican Revolution of the 1910s or even during Chicano Power activism of the 1960s, University of California at Los Angeles Professor David Hayes-Bautista said. . . .
 
Cinco de Mayo does indeed mark a Mexican military victory over the invading French army on May 5, 1862, but it’s celebrated more in the United States because in 1862, U.S. Latinos of Mexican heritage parlayed the victory as a rallying cry that the Union could also win the Civil War.
 
That’s because the French sympathized with the Confederacy, and Hispanics sided with the Union in its fight against slavery and elitism, Hayes-Bautista said. France sought to impose a monarchy over democratic Mexico while U.S. foreign power weakened during the War Between the States. . . .
 
Hayes-Bautista was culling Spanish-language newspapers in California and Oregon for vital statistics from the 1800s when he noticed how the Civil War and Cinco de Mayo battle were intertwined. He researches the epidemiology and demography of Latinos in California because he’s director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture.
 
“I’m seeing how in the minds of the Spanish-reading public in California that they were basically looking at one war with two fronts, one against the Confederacy in the east and the other against the French in the south,” Hayes-Bautista said in an interview with CNN.
 
“In Mexico today, Cinco de Mayo means the Mexican army defeated the French army,” he continued. “In California and Oregon, the news was interpreted as finally that the army of freedom and democracy won a big one against the army of slavery and elitism. And the fact that those two armies had to meet in Mexico was immaterial because they were fighting for the same issues — defending freedom and democracy. Latinos were joining the Union army, Union cavalry, Union navy.
 
“The French goal was to eliminate democracy, and remember that Mexico had democracy only for 30 or 40 years at that point,” he added. “Remember, Europe was ruled mostly by monarchs.”
 
French emperor Napoleon III “was no friend of the Union and was definitely a friend of the Confederacy and flirted with the Confederacy constantly with the possible recognition of the Confederate government,” Hayes-Bautista said. President Abraham Lincoln never referred to the Confederacy as a separate government: they were states in rebellion,” the professor said.

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I’ll have to cogitate some on this idea that Puebla was viewed by Hispanics in the Far West as, in effect, a proxy Union victory. It’s certainly true that a good many Hispanics served the Confederacy, as well. We do sometimes forget, these days, how fluid borders and cultures were in the Southwest 150 years ago. The hero of the Battle of Puebla, Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, for example, was born at Presidio la Bahía, near present-day Goliad, Texas in 1829.

In the meantime, I think I’ll fire up Netflix streaming and revisit that period with Cinco de Mayo, La Batalla (2013). Here’s Zaragoza’s address to his troops before the battle from that film:

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(h/t Civil War Talk user KansasFreestater)

GeneralStarsGray

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4 Responses

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  1. Steve Green said, on May 5, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    General Zaragoza wAs Juan Seguin’s cousin, at least according to Wikipedia.

  2. Christopher Coleman said, on May 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Great film clip and an interesting connection between the Mexican struggle against the French and the Civil War which I never dreamed of. The Seguin connection also links it to Texas independence and the Alamo! Thanks to Paul Muni and the classic movie Juarez I knew the Mexican President was a great admirer of Lincoln. Now, however, the connection between the two struggles is much clearer.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 8, 2014 at 11:45 am

      It’s something I’d never thought of.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 8, 2014 at 11:47 am

      The movie, BTW, is not bad, although the French come off as somewhat caricatured, and their Mexican Conservative allies are mostly set dressing.


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