Mexican traditions hold strong through generations

Joe Bugbee and Joe Bugbee

The meaning of Cinco de Mayo is often confused. For many, the day, celebrated May 5, commemoratesMexico’s independence from Spain. In actuality, it is is a day set aside to remember of the Battle of Puebla, an event that for many Mexican and Mexican-Americans, represents courage and the ability to overcome oppression. Food and dance dominate festivities for Cinco de Mayo (the ‘fifth of May’ in Spanish), but some Mexican-Americans fear that the day, wildly celebrated and embraced in America, is becoming too commercialized. But at the University there are those who believe that with just a little education the real meaning of Cinco de Mayo can be celebrated and embraced. To be educated though, celebrants must first know a little of the history of Cinco de Mayo.

Fighting For Stability

Years after Mexico became independent from Spain in 1810, the country continued to struggle to form some kind of stable government. For the next fifty years, there was a constant threat of civil war, and a two-year war with the United States. In that war, Mexico lost nearly half of its territory: California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were now part of the United States. This devastating defeat nearly left Mexico bankrupt. Not only did they lose half of their land, Mexico had a foreign debt that was astounding. To counter this problem, Mexican President Benito Juarez issued an edict in 1861 that stopped payment to all of Mexico’s foreign debtors, including the most powerful nation in Europe: France. If Juarez continued to pay the other countries Mexico owed, his nation would surely go bankrupt. It would cause even more unrest in an already struggling land.


The emperor of France, Napolean III, wasn’t exactly thrilled about Mexico’s decision to not pay their debt. To put pressure on President Jaurez, Napolean sent troops into Mexico, and in December of 1861, the Emperor’s army invaded and captured Veracruz, the country’s largest port city. Of course, the debt was just an excuse for France to invade; they had their eye on Mexico for years, and they were eager to add to an already expanding empire. Systematically, the powerful French army marched their way through Mexico, overpowering the overwhelmed Mexicans, and easily overtaking the nation’s capital, Mexico City.

A Sign of Hope

It wasn’t until the following spring of 1862 that the Mexican army finally stopped the French from advancing. Camping outside the small town of Puebla, the French army was ambushed by the poorly equipped Mexicans. As the Mexican troops fired, the French were driven back, and when it started to rain, the muddy slopes of the Mexican hills made it impossible for a French victory. Five years after defeating the French, President Jaurez declared the victory at Puebla, Cinco de Mayo, a national holiday. The president did not want to forget the men who beat the powerful French, and he knew that one small victory made his people proud, for once. 141 years later, the pride is still there.

Here at the University and in Bowling Green, the spirit of Cinco de Mayo is still very much alive. Saturday, at the Wood County fairgrounds, the Latino Networking Committee of the University is sponsoring all day events celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Throughout the day, there will be food, music, folkloric dancing, costumes, a pinata for the children, and a juggler. Later that night, LNC will be sponsoring a scholarship dance, featuring the Latino band Vizion. Although there is no charge to attend the dance, LNC asks for a $10 dollar donation, with all proceeds going to the Lynn Maddox Book Scholarship Endowment.

Dave Garcia, the treasurer for the LNC, said the celebration is a perfect opportunity to educate all people, not just Mexican and Mexican Americans about the origins and the spirit of Cinco de Mayo.

“Even Mexican Americans think that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence,” Garcia said. “Something like this is educational, but it’s also a chance for people to come out and have a great time.”

Garcia is one Mexican-American who thinks Cinco de Mayo has become too commercialized and is just another excuse for people to drink a lot.

“Look at St. Patrick’s Day, people start drinking early just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day,” Garcia said. “The same thing is happening to Cinco de Mayo.”