Eric Lurio Headshot

Cinco de Mayo: Not Mexican independence Day!

Posted: Updated:

This week is Cinco de Mayo, what most Americans think is Mexican Independence Day. Well, it's not. It's the anniversary of the victory of the Republican forces over the French on that date in 1862. Yeah, I know, beating the French isn't much of an achievement or an excuse for a holiday, and in Mexico, very few outside the state of Puebla, where it took place, even notice.

It's actually a Mexican-American holiday, which was for some reason very popular in California, and over the years has become the official Mexican ethnic day, as Columbus Day is for the Italians and Polanski Day is for the Poles. In other words, it's a harmless, if totally fake holiday. After all, the French, and their puppet emperor Max, weren't thrown out for another five years. It might have behooved the Latinos to have picked another day to party, such as the real anniversary of Mexican independence, which falls on...which falls on...um...well, that's the problem. No one is exactly sure when exactly Mexico became independent.

This year, the government of Mexico is celebrating the country's bicentennial, but the date they picked, while historically significant, isn't the anniversary of independence or even the beginnings of the war of independence. You see the viceroyalty of New Spain had declared that King Joseph Bonaparte, who just had been installed by his brother Napoleon, was illegitimate and with the legitimate King (we're not sure whether or not it as Carlos IV, who was thrown out by his son Fernando VII or Fernando, who was forced to abdicate by Ol' Boney in favor of his father, who was forced to abdicate again in favor of brother Joe) now under house arrest somewhere, all ties with Spain were now broken. That was July 19, 1808.

Now you could say that this wasn't actually independence, because the Viceroy and his council were officially supporting the deposed King Fernando. The Mexican government claims that, they say that the real date of independence was September 16, 1810, when a polygamist priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued the Grito de Dolores, which proclaimed the government to be illegitimate (it was established via a coup) and the revolutionaries intent to put Fernando back on the throne and reestablish proper Spanish rule by getting rid of the Spanish. Hildago was a lousy general, and the revolution was mostly crushed within a year. The anniversary of the Grito is a major holiday in Mexico.

However, the revolutionaries regrouped under another polygamous priest, José María Morelos, and they actually declared what would become Mexico to be independence on November 6, 1813. However, this revolution would be crushed too, and Morelos would be executed in December of 1815, by which time Fernando was back on the throne and New Spain was a colony again.

In fact, when Mexico finally achieved independence in 1821, it was the colonialists who merely declared the king in Madrid was to be replaced by an emperor in Mexico City, Augustine de Itrubide, leading to a period of mostly chaos that would last into the 1870s. So why, are the Mexicans celebrating 200 years of independence when it's clear that the date was totally off?

Well, a century later, in 1910, Porfirio Diaz, who had been dictator, with a couple of breaks, since 1876, had announced he was going to retire, and wanted to go off with a bang! So he decided that Hidalgo's Grito a century before founded Mexico.

The celebrations were a huge success and thus Diaz concluded that the people loved him so much that they would happily let him renege on his plan to retire and run again for the presidency. This led to the Mexican revolution, a civil war that lasted almost ten years. caused the deaths of a significant fraction of the population, and indirectly led to America's entry into World War One.

This time out, presidents cannot run for reelection, so the double anniversaries won't probably lead to another revolution, and thus it's all good. Meanwhile, Cinco de Mayo, the semi-bogus national day of Latinos everywhere, is as good a day as any to party. I'm going to have a taco.