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*Black History and Cinco de Mayo are affirmed on this date in 1862.
In 1860, Mexico could not pay its debts to colonial powers Spain, the United Kingdom, and France. The three sent over a naval force to collect, but Spain and the U.K. reached a compromise. France, then ruled by Emperor Napoleon III, decided to invade Mexico. With the ongoing American Civil War, he hoped to arm the Confederacy, which wanted to secede to protect the institution of slavery in exchange for cotton.
The Union blocked the South from shipping cotton to Europe. "In 1862, things weren't going well for the Union in the Civil War, but in Puebla was a clear-cut victory that completely threw the French timetable off," said David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine, UCLA to History.com. "The news reports just electrified Latinos and jolted them to a whole new level of organization and activity." Marching from Veracruz, French forces looked to capture Mexico City, but on May 5, 1862, they were beaten at Puebla by General Ignacio Zaragoza, a volunteer, and enlisted troops.
The defeat forced the army to retreat to Veracruz. It was a short-lived victory because the French were eventually able to invade Mexico – French forces took Puebla in May 1863 – but many believe that the year-long delay worked to President Abraham Lincoln's advantage. It bought the Union enough time to win decisive battles before the Confederacy could receive upgraded weapons. In Mexico, the battle became an example of the country's resistance.
And for Mexicans in California, it became a cause for celebration. Mexicans saw the connection between America's Civil War and Zaragoza's victory. The holiday reemerged in the 1960s when Chicano activists revived it to support the American Civil Rights movement.