SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Two particular Mexican patriotic days are really popular in Texas. They are September the Sixteenth (El diezyseis) and May 5th (El Cinco de Mayo).
Of the two, El Cinco de Mayo seems to enjoy more recognition. Why is that? It may be because capitalist Madison Avenue has long known its “sky’s the limit” market value. It’s already an integral part of U.S. corporations’ mega-million dollar TV and multi-media advertising blitz from coast to coast.
The question is why are these holidays celebrated in Texas? To answer that question, the following paragraphs summarize details of the two events, beginning with “El diezyseis de Septiembre”.
Most people are surprised to learn that September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, actually applies here in Texas, as well. The reason is simple. Texas was part of New Spain (Mexico) in 1810. In other words, independence minded Tejanos heard Father Miguel Hidalgo’s “Grito” loud and clear. Indeed, it was as a result of Hidalgo’s call that Captain Juan Bautista de las Casas declared a short-lived Texas independence in the name of Father Hidalgo in 1811. Likewise, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, native of Revilla, Nuevo Santander (now Guerrero, Tamaulipas) mobilized Mexico’s Army of the North to seek independence for Texas. After defeating the Spanish Army in five battles, he accomplished that feat on April 1-2, 1813.
As to “El Cinco de Mayo,” contrary to popular opinion, it’s not an independence day in Mexico. Actually, this date recalls the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla, May 5, 1862. This brings up an obvious question. If Texas was already part of the U.S. in 1862, why do we celebrate this holiday in the U.S. and more specifically here in Texas? Here’s how and why we Tejanos unapologetically treat this day as one of our own.
The 1850s were a period of great turmoil in Mexico. Much blood was shed in the violent struggle between the federalist faction and conservatives supporting a monarchy. Eventually, the federalist army defeated the conservatives and Benito Juárez was elected as president. However, amid all the chaos of trying to set up a new government, Juárez faced an overwhelming problem. Short of cash flow and unable to repay bankers in Europe, Mexico became the stage for an invasion from France in 1861. To lay claim to Mexico, Napoleon III installed Austrian Prince Maximilian Ferdinand as Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico. His plans were to set up a European style kingdom in order to exploit Mexico’s vast natural resources and enhance French trade.
To face his European enemy, President Benito Juárez named 33 year-old General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín as commander of the Mexican Army. General Zaragoza was born in La Bahia (now Goliad), Texas and was a member of the patriot Seguín family. So, although Texas was already part of the U.S., it had been so for only a short fourteen years. As such, most native-born Texans of the day still had close family members living in Mexico; fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, etc. That is the main reason that many Tejanos volunteered to go help their relatives in their time of need.
Even though outnumbered, General Zaragoza was able to take advantage of the French commanding general’s several tactical blunders. In the end, the army of French Emperor Maximilian I was defeated at the Battle of Puebla. In reporting his triumph, General Zaragoza’s dignified and selfless message to Benito Juárez read simply “Las fuerzas nacionales están cubiertas de gloria” (The national arms are now covered in glory).
Sadly, General Zaragoza was struck down with typhoid fever shortly after his victory and he died September 8, 1862. He is buried in Panteón San Fernando in Mexico City. In addition to the highest honors that Mexico has bestowed on him he is also honored in Texas. For example, the home where he was born is preserved in Goliad on La Bahia Presidio grounds. Also, San Antonio, Laredo and many other communities honor General Zaragoza with statues, monuments, and historical markers. The tributes are earned, since the hero of Mexico is Texas-born. Thus, observing the Mexican patriotic events of “El diezyseis de Septiembre” and “El Cinco de Mayo” only demonstrates the direct connection between Texas and Mexico.
Clearly understanding that link benefits all. Firstly, Mexican-descent Texans must be proud of the fact that it’s okay to have close family ties with Mexico and to speak Spanish. The projected re-browning of the U.S. is not due to recent immigration. Rather, their genealogical Native American roots have been here all along.
Secondly, skeptical members of the general public must shed their anti-Mexico biases caused by years of movie-based legends and myths. They need to view Texas as a historical offspring of Mexico. Doing so, they’d be more inclined to cure themselves of their Mexican phobia and accept Mexico as a good neighbor. In reality, other than fighting for its sovereign land (Texas) in a war with the U.S., Mexico has been one of the most loyal allies of the U.S.
The first Texas history chapters may be written in Spanish, but that only proves that our state’s history is bi-cultural and bi-lingual. What’s wrong with that? Indeed, it’s time to let bygones be bygones. In short, Abraham Lincoln’s words toward the defeated southern states in his second inaugural speech also apply in the way we see our neighbor to the south — “Malice toward none, charity to all.”
José “Joe” Antonio López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.