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The Real History Of Cinco De Mayo


Cinco de Mayo is a time when Americans celebrate Mexico, and Mexicans grumble that Americans have no idea what they're celebrating. This year, there is data to back up that perception - well, if you can count a poll paid for by Avocados from Mexico as reliable data. The poll says that only 22% of Americans know what Cinco de Mayo is actually about. Here's the real history.

In 1862, during the U.S. Civil War, the French Army marched towards Mexico City. Emperor Napoleon III was eager to establish a second Mexican empire favorable to the French, an outpost in the New World that would serve as a kind of replacement for all that French land his uncle decided to sell to Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase. So he sent a fleet to attack Veracruz, land of force and head to Mexico City. But they were defeated before they could even get there - at the Mexican city of Puebla - when a young Mexican general named Ignacio Zaragoza beat back the French troops in a bloody confrontation.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo celebrates that battle, the first battle of Puebla. And it's pretty low key. Here in the U.S., it's become a time to enjoy Mexican culture with tequila, guacamole and tortillas.

By the way, there was a second battle of Puebla, which the French won. And Napoleon III did finally get his second Mexican empire, but it only lasted a few years. Here in the United States, enjoy Cinco de Mayo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.