Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

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Saturday’s 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo came in the middle of the 150th commemoration of the American Civil War. New research shows that the two anniversaries are directly connected.

Diana Gordon wrote a feature piece for Long Island Wins on the history of the battle against France in 1862 that gave rise to the Cinco de Mayo holiday. One phenomena that she pointed out was that while May 5 is celebrated throughout the United States, it is more of a local celebration in Mexico. The greatest festivities take place in Puebla where the battle against the invading French took place in 1862.

David Hayes-Bautista, who is a medical professor at UCLA, has published a new study arguing that the holiday’s popularity here is not an accident. It was first popularized by Latinos in the United States during the Civil War as an expression of support for the Union side in the war.

“Cinco de Mayo is a tradition dating from the Civil War,” Hayes-Bautista told The Huffington Post. “It was all created in this country, by Latinos who supported freedom and racial equality and who were opposed to slavery, supremacy and the exclusion by government.”

The May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla took place just as the United States was entering the second bloody year of the Civil War. Hayes-Bautista on the origins of Cinco de Mayo:

“The news of the Mexican victory over the French Army in Puebla were celebrated, not only immediately after it happened, but every year during the Civil War. That is the origin of why we celebrate the Cinco de Mayo,” said Hayes-Bautista, author of the new book “The Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition,” whose publication coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla.

For the professor, the equation is simple: “Latinos here supported [President Abraham] Lincoln. They supported freedom, and democracy. The French invaded Mexico to remove democracy, and to impose over Mexico a treaty with the Confederation,” he explained.

The first record of the celebration came only three days after the military victory, in an article from a newspaper in Columbia, a town in northern California, reporting how Mexicans living in that region threw a big, long party as news came of the defeat of French troops in Puebla. The celebrations continued through the years into what now is considered a Mexican festivity.

As part of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, the Plaza of Culture and Arts in Los Angeles will showcase“Cinco de Mayo: Latinos in California Respond to the Civil War,”which explores the roots of this celebration in the Civil War. The show includes many of Hayes-Bautista’s findings, like photos, notes, journals, minutes and letters testifying to his discovery.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

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