By Leslie Peña, Spanish
Growing up in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo was something we learned about in history class…the day when the Mexican army, against all odds, defeated the French in the city of Puebla in 1862.
In the early 1860s, Mexico owed a significant debt to France. Napoleon III, sent troops to overtake Mexico City. On their way to Mexico City, they had to go through the city of Puebla.
When General Charles Latrille de Lorencez’s 6,000 troops of French soldiers met General Ignacio Zaragoza’s Mexican troops, Zaragoza’s smaller and less equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla.
I do not remember it being a special celebration or festive day. We did not even get to miss school and all businesses were open, since it is not an official holiday.
This holiday is mainly celebrated in the city Puebla, and only in a few other places in the country where military parades take place but not parties or festivities.
Often in the U.S. I have encountered people wishing me Happy Independence Day on Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence is on September 16th and that is indeed a huge celebration!
What I have learned since moving to the U.S. is that the hispanics and Mexican Americans adopted Cinco de Mayo as their own holiday instead of Mexican Independence. This goes back to when the news of the Battle of Puebla reached California Latinos, especially residents of Hispanic origin, who were glad for the failure of the French plan to help the Confederacy.
Nowadays, it has still become a fun thing to do to get together with my Mexican friends and enjoy our favorite treats on this day since it is such a huge celebration in the U.S.
In my Spanish classes, I have been using this opportunity every year to explain the difference between Cinco de Mayo, or as we call it in Mexico: “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” and Mexican Independence day on September 16th when Mexico became independent from Spain.
On Mexican Independence in September we get to see in class when the Mexican president relives the chant for Independence (el grito de Dolores) from the presidential balcony facing the crowd.
This year at Grace, we went over all of these historic facts and cleared some of the common misconceptions. We had a competitive game of accurately labeling the historic facts and main historic figures as well as a puzzle. The winners who completed this correctly got to take home a “make your own conchas” kit by La Newyorkina’s Mexico city born Chef Fany Gerson.
The winners of the make your own conchas kit were eighth graders Nate B., Estelle V. and Clara T. and sixth graders Ava C. (remote) and Nina F.
Nate B. Holding his Prize
Everyone in my Spanish class got to taste three different traditional Mexican pastries: orejas, garibaldis and conchas. Due to covid some of our traditional celebrations, such as a “papel picado” workshop and a conchas baking class have been postponed but are still in the works for later this month.
¡Felíz día de la Batalla de Puebla!