Ask 9 out of 10 Americans if they know when Mexico’s independence day is, and they will say: Sure. It’s Cinco de Mayo!
But guess what? They would be wrong. The truth? Cinco de Mayo is a bigger holiday in the United States than it is in Mexico!
Umm…Then what’s Cinco de Mayo?
How could that be? Well, for one, Mexico had already been independent for more than 50 years when “Cinco de Mayo” happened in 1862. Mexico was still finding its footing as an independent nation. They were facing financial ruin. France—at this time, still very much an imperialist powerhouse—saw an opportunity.
But Mexico wasn’t having any of it. In a tiny village called Puebla, Mexicoa rallying cry was held. Eventually, 2,000 proud Mexican villagers (NOT soldiers) fought against 6,000 well-equipped French soldiers.
Puebla, Mexico won the battle! They defeated French soldiers 5 to 1 despite being outnumbered 3 to 1. France eventually retreated.
But wait…Why United States?
Good question. The United States didn’t want a such a powerful rival so near to them. Why? The United States weren’t…well, for lack of a better term, ‘united’ at that time. They were in the middle of a civil war. The Confederates were trying to be their own country.
That was part of France’s plan. They wanted to support the Confederates. As Sun Tzu says: “enemy of your enemy, is your friend.” But going to war against the US? France would need Mexico as a home base.
Cinco de Mayo is the New St. Patrick’s Day
The United States recognized they had a common enemy with Mexico. They even supported their resistance against France. So when Mexico defeated the French forces, United States celebrated. At first, primarily in Southern California.
Then year after year, the celebration spread. By the 1960’s some corporations began sponsoring them. By 1980, it was a national trend, and it hasn’t slowed down since. Like St. Paddy’s Day, every year, you can bet American’s are going to be drinking and partying.
Mexico’s Real Independence Day?
By now we’ve firmly established that Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico’s Independence day. So, what is it then?
Mexico celebrates its Independence day every September 16th.
But how did it happen?
And so it began: Dia del Grito
For over three centuries Spain held dominion over Mexico. That’s 300 years! Think about that. That’s 60 years longer than United States has been a country. Crazy, right?
By September 16, 1810, Mexico said, enough is enough. Well, ok, not in those words exactly. It was actually a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo who kicked it off. They call him the “Father of Mexican Independence.” It all started when he gave a famous speech at Dolores, Mexico.
The speech is known today as “Grito de Dolores.”
It was the rallying cry that got everything started. Everyone rallied together and fought back. They came SO close to capturing the Mexican capital. But they didn’t. And then Spain became angry. Very angry.
Spain Fights Back
Clearly, Spain was not happy with Hidalgo. Eventually, they caught him and executed him. But by this point, there was no going back. Spain cut off the head. But another grew in its place.
Immediately after Hidalgo, there was: José María Morelos y Pavón,Mariano Matamoros, and Vicente Guerrero. These peasant leaders continued the rebellion.
Why Royalists Turned Rebels
Here’s the irony.
Royalists were people of Spanish decent. They enjoyed privileges Mestizos (those mixed with the natives) couldn’t. Because of these privileges, they were fine with Spanish dominion. But then rebels slowly started gaining power. Once it looked like they were going to take over, and minimize their Royalist privileges, they started to rethink the situation.
Essentially they said, “maybe we’re better off without Spain.”
And so Royalist turncoat, Agustín de Iturbide, brokered a deal with Vicente Guerrero. The result? Mexico established itself as an independent constitutional monarchy. The catch?
Mexicans of pure Spanish descent would keep the privileges not afforded to mestizos and natives.
Nevertheless, Mexico freed itself. What started with a powerful speech, ended in sovereignty.
There you have it. That’s the story of Mexico’s real independence day. Did we get something wrong? Maybe we left out an important event? Please correct us below!