El Cinco de Mayo celebrations honor an important military victory in Mexico’s history.
Specifically, the Mexican Army led by Goliad, Texas native General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French Army under General Charles de Lorencez on May 5, 1862.
While the date, also known as the “Battle of Puebla”, is important in Mexico, it isn’t designated a national holiday, as President Benito Juárez once envisioned. Nor (as believed by some) is it Mexico’s Independence Day.
Curiously though, its popularity is great in the U.S., where annual events go back to 1863 California, eventually spreading throughout the country. Today, it’s one of the top money-making retail business days in the U.S.
Yet, the Battle of Puebla impact goes beyond Mexico’s border; reaching into U.S. Civil War history. That’s because a French victory would have set-up a supply staging site in Mexico to support the pro-slavery South.
(Note: Mexico was the first country in America to abolish slavery in 1829.)
President Abraham Lincoln was well aware of the prospect and secretly provided Mexico’s President Benito Juárez with armaments to help defeat the French Army. President Lincoln’s strategy proved correct.
Said another way, though the Battle of Puebla did occur on Mexican soil, Mexico defeated an ally of the Confederacy. Thus, a case can be made to link it by proxy to a Union victory in the early battles of the Civil War.
Regrettably, the battle’s connection to the U.S. Civil War is omitted in mainstream history books. That isn’t surprising, since conventional U.S. historians tend to treat Mexico rather disrespectfully. In turn, that attitude creates the hostile perception many people in the U.S. hold toward Mexico and Mexican people.
Additionally, three current causes continually cast contempt toward Mexico in U.S. public opinion.
- Illegal drugs and guns trafficking.The border’s illegal drugs dilemma is binational. It’s a supply-and-demand issue. Mexico didn’t create the problem. That would be like blaming Italy for organized crime in the U.S. Plus, illegal guns trafficking originates with U.S. gun dealers, whose weapons then become the main component of border violence. The problem can only be solved through respectful teamwork on both sides of the equation.
- Asylum seekers.Central Americans at the border not only have a reason to be there, but it’s a basic human necessity to seek refuge. Their search for sanctuary is no different than that of millions of white European immigrants who once landed in America at the Castle Garden Immigration Depot and Ellis Island on the east coast. The big difference? Asylum-seeking migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border don’t come from overseas. They are Native Americans and America is the only land they’ve ever known.
- The wall. In reference to the raucous wall debate, border city elected officials live on the border 24/7. They know first-hand the value of the cooperative composition of sister cities straddling the Rio Grande and throughout the Southwest.
- As “boots on the ground” (to borrow a military phrase) they know what it takes to secure our borders without building a wall. Unbelievably, fear-mongering wall promoters refuse this expert counsel.
Indeed, political extremists regularly dupe their followers into believing repugnant lies about the Southwest and Mexico. For example, they repeatedly dehumanize immigrants by accusing asylum-seeking men, women, and children of being poor, dirty, and terrorists.
Moreover, a conservative national news show recently displayed a graphic labeling the nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as “Mexican” states. That level of ignorance is not only laughable, but disgraceful.
Also, here in Texas, during the 2018 mid-term elections, Spanish-surnamed Texans voted in record numbers. It should have been received as great news by all. Yet, Texas state government officials blamed it on illegal immigrants. They issued a news release threatening an investigation and voter rolls purge. Fortunately, major flaws were found in their data, and they were forced to end their latest voter intimidation tactic.
Why has the deck been stacked against Mexico, its people, and Mexican-descent U.S. citizens? The following historical backdrop provides the answer behind the long-lasting U.S. antipathy.
The starting point of the U.S. offensive occurred in 1811. That’s when Lt. Colonel José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara Uribe visited the White House as Mexico’s First U.S. Ambassador. Requesting assistance for the 1810 Mexican Revolution, he also sought Texas liberty as an independent Mexican state.
While President Madison agreed to help, he coupled his support to the ceding of Texas to the U.S. That was a condition that Mexico’s ambassador was unwilling to accept. Realizing that his Mexican guest couldn’t be bullied, President Madison acquiesced to Gutiérrez de Lara’s request, allowing him to organize Mexico’s Army of the North (First Texas Army) in Louisiana.
Another troubling example is the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty. Per that agreement, the U.S. gained Florida, significant Spanish land west of the Mississippi River, and abandoned its claim to Texas. Further, the U.S. promised to respect Texas’ northeast/eastern borders at the Red and Sabine Rivers.
However, the U.S. resumed its drive to incorporate Texas after about one year. That is, the U.S. admitted Texas as a slave state in 1845, causing the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48. The U.S. won the war and took Texas, South Texas (Northern Tamaulipas), and the Southwest.
As I often remind readers, Texas and the Southwest are in New Spain, not New England. There is no Plymouth Rock off the Texas coast. In other words,“how the west was won”by the U.S. is that it took the land from its neighbor, the sovereign Republic of Mexico.
In summary, “Old Mexico” has suffered much. In its former territory now in U.S. possession, mainstream U.S. society has demanded that to be accepted, Mexican-descent residents must reject their heritage and speak only English. Those are naïve, hypocritical expectations, given that speaking English hasn’t secured equal treatment for Native Americans or African Americans.
Mexican-descent residents of the Southwest, cannot change to English-descent, no more than the Greeks expected Egyptians to become Greeks when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332. On the contrary, as the consummate conqueror, Alexander both respected and encouraged countries he vanquished to retain and preserve their cultures.
Following that ancient model, Mexican-descent U.S. citizens originating in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, and California have naturallyretained their Spanish Mexican ancestors’ spirit. It’s a heartfelt attitude; not political allegiance to Mexico.
Lastly, residents on both sides (ambos lados)of the Rio Grande descend from Spanish Mexican pioneers who first welcomed U.S. immigrants Stephen F. Austin and the Old 300 Anglo families to Texas. Despite differences in language, culture, and religion, they were invited because our ancestors envisioned that Texas was big enough for everyone.
Likewise, Anglo and Nordic-descent people who live in Texas tend to forget that they descend from U.S. immigrants looking to start lives anew. It’s a chance that our Spanish Mexican ancestors granted them, using “love your neighbor as yourself”values; in purely Christian friendship.
Still, demagogues continue to increase white citizens’ anxiety by claiming that Mexicans are about to pour over the border. They can rest assured that won’t happen.
Our Mexican brethren south of the border love their beautiful country, just as U.S. citizens love theirs. They are quite happy in Mexico and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Perhaps no other example can express those sentiments better than the beautiful words of Chucho Monge:“México lindo y querido, si muero lejos de ti; que digan que estoy dormido y que me traigan aquí.” (Lovely beloved México; if I die far from you; may they say that I’m asleep, and may they bring me back here.)
Editor’s Note: The illustration accompanying the above guest column is of Ignacio Zaragoza.