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How To Talk About Cinco De Mayo Without Sounding Like A Gringo

No, it isn’t Mexican Independence Day.

1. Before you go and make a fool of yourself by trying to do a tequila power hour, why don’t you learn a little anti-colonial history?

2. Let’s start from the beginning. You see, back in the 1860s, Mexico was kind of in a tough spot.

José Escudero y Espronceda, Public Domain / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Benito Juarez, the country’s first indigenous president, had just managed to suppress a rebellion that tried to usher in a monarchy instead of a republic.

3. The three-year civil war had left the Republican government’s finances in shambles.

‘Cause killing reactionaries is hella expensive, bro.

4. But the worst part was that Mexico owed a ton of money to Spain, England, and France.

And you know how awfully sensitive those imperialist fools can get about a couple million pesos.

5. Anyway, the colonial powers made a deal and sent a bunch of ships to Mexico.

And they were like: “Benito, bro, pay up or we’re gonna take over Mexico City and turn it into our big colonial backyard.”

6. Juarez was a savvy negotiator.

He said: “Listen, guys, I need some time to rebuild the country. I swear we’ll pay you back soon. I just passed some of the most progressive legislation in history. Give me a break.”

7. And so the British and the Spanish said, “Aight.”

And they took their ships back from whence they came.

8. But the French were like, “We ain’t going nowhere.”

Which is surprising, seeing that Mexico owed Britain almost 30 times as much as it owed France.

9. Soon it became apparent that the French weren’t in it for the money.

They wanted to install a puppet monarch in Mexico to defend their imperial interests from the newly powerful United States!

10. As if having America as a neighbor wasn’t bad enough for Mexico already.

Unlike America, France didn’t think it had God’s permission to invade because of manifest destiny. But the French had reason and the Enlightenment, which are just as good. SMH.

11. So the French invaded the country with a big, powerful army.

12. They went straight for the big prize and marched toward Mexico City.

The French army, one of the scariest and best equipped of its time, advanced without much resistance.

13. But Mexico’s army hadn’t fled. It was hatching a plan.

Cinco de Mayo: La Batalla / Via yucatan.com.mx

What was left of the liberal forces from the civil war had holed up in the city of Puebla, some 70 miles from the capital.

14. This fancy dude led the Mexican army:

Public domain / Via loc.gov

Ignacio Zaragoza was an extraordinary tactician. Also, he totally rocked wire-rimmed glasses.

15. On the morning of May 5, 1862, the French army charged toward the city.

Bells tolled. Cannons were fired. Dust rose. Very scary.

16. The battle raged for a whole day.

Here’s a scene from a really terrible movie about the battle that came out in 2013, to give you an idea of how horrible it was.

17. And then, the unthinkable happened.

The French ran away! They turned tail like these penguins but only if the penguins had once been a formidable army.

18. Can you imagine that?

They were defeated by a small band of ragtag veterans and forcibly conscripted peasants.

19. Anyway, it was awesome.

And that’s why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo every year.

20. But, of course, as almost always happens, Mexico lost in the end.

The French came back with even more soldiers and took over Mexico City. The enemy has never ceased to be victorious, y’all.

21. They gave power to this guy: Maximilian Von Hapsburg.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Public Domain / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Because, of course, an Austrian who had never been to Mexico was the best possible ruler for the country.

22. The hapless fellow only lasted for three years.

Edouard Manet, Public Domain / Via commons.wikimedia.org

And then Juarez killed him. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with a dude called Benito, or you’ll end up in a painting by Manet showing your hella close-range execution.

23. In any case, now you know what happened on Cinco de Mayo, 1862.

So, when you get wasted on Monday, remember to drink against colonialism, not for it. Gringos in sombreros, I’m looking at you.

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