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Valley Life

*foot notes

May 05, 2000|JAMES E. FOWLER

Today is Cinco de Mayo, but it's not Mexican Independence Day, which, contrary to popular belief north of the border, is celebrated Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, commemorates the courage of the Mexican Army in its 1862 victory over vastly superior French forces at La Batalla de Puebla.

* Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821. But because of its war with the United States in 1846 and internal power struggles, the fledgling government amassed a huge foreign debt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez declared a two-year suspension of foreign debt payments. England and Spain threatened to invade, but France actually did, using the debt as reason for expanding its empire to America. Outnumbered at least 2 to 1, the ragtag Mexican forces defeated one of the world's great modern armies at Puebla. Their victory was short-lived, as French forces eventually conquered all of Mexico and Napoleon III installed Austrian prince Maximilian of Hapsburg as Mexican Emperor in 1864. Later, Maximilian was executed by firing squad and Juarez was restored to power in 1867.

* Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated on a much larger scale in the United States than in Mexico. Some have said Cinco de Mayo has become the Mexican equivalent of St. Patrick's Day: Everyone becomes Mexican for a day. Heavy marketing by the alcohol industry has also changed the way the holiday is celebrated. The California Latino Leadership United for Healthy Communities is attempting this year to counter the alcohol industry's influence with a campaign to restore dignity to the holiday. The campaign is intended to stop the industry's use of the holiday to promote its products and encourage use in the Mexican American community. For more information, go to http://www.calpartners.org/cinco/cinco.

* Antelope Valley College, 3041 W. Avenue K, Lancaster, will host a Mexican Marketplace in honor of the holiday with Mexican food, music and dancing today from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free admission. (661) 722-6300.

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