Celebrating the Cinco de Mayo that Made History

Cinco de Mayo is just a month away, and for many Americans, that means heading out to the local Mexican restaurant for chips, salsa, a round of Coronas and some mariachi music.

Widely believed—incorrectly—to be Mexico's equivalent of the Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo is actually the commemoration of the Battle of Puebla, an epic struggle in which Mexican forces defeated the French Army, which was dispatched to Mexico to demand payments on which Mexico had defaulted.

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Colonel Eric Rojo, Washington Region representative of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla Planning Committee, says the Battle of Puebla is akin to the US Battle of Gettysburg, and that, considered together, the battles were a “definitive warning to European powers to stay out of affairs of the [North American] continent.”

This year, marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and the Mexican state of the same name has planned a full month's worth of activities—starting last Sunday-- to celebrate Mexico's most misunderstood holiday.

Concerts featuring famed Mexican and international performers such as Lila Downs, Eugenia Leon, Los Tigres del Norte, Ruben Blades, and Omara Portuondo are scheduled, as are dozens of art exhibits and dance performances; more than 800 artists from 24 countries will be on hand. And not surprisingly, since Puebla is famous for its cuisine—especially mole al poblano—food will play a prominent part in the celebrations.

The highlight of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, though, will be the events that help shed more light on the ties between the U.S. and Mexico and the aspects of our shared history that have largely been forgotten. In particular, the government of Puebla hopes that U.S. travelers with a deep interest in history will visit the state during the Cinco de Mayo celebration, in part so they can learn how U.S. and Mexican history are connected.

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American history buffs are likely to be especially interested in the battle reenactment and the grand parade, which will feature a contingent of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), whose members are all direct descendants of officers in Lincoln's army. The event will be the first time that a U.S. military contingent has paraded in Puebla since the late 19th century.

Colonel Rojo, who is a member of MOLLUS, notes that another highlight of the anniversary will be a three-day symposium of Mexican and international historians discussing the significance of the Battle of Puebla.

There is plenty to explore in Puebla beyond the Cinco de Mayo celebrations; the town center the city of Puebla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and several towns in the state of Puebla are “Pueblos Magicos,” or Magic Towns, so-declared by the Secretary of Tourism of Mexico. Pueblos Magicos preserve some important aspect of Mexican cultural patrimony. Rojo encourages travelers who are interested in visiting Puebla to keep an eye on the Cinco de Mayo website  and on the state's tourism website, both of which will be listing travel specials related to the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

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