05/05/2012 10:19 am ET Updated Jul 05, 2012

Viva Cinco de Mayo - "We Don't Need No Stinking Fancy Uniforms"

So, you're sipping one of the 185,000 margaritas served each hour in the United States. Watermelon, peach, prickly pear, strawberry - the margarita is the most popular ordered drink in the United States representing 18% of all mixed drinks sales. As you toss back tortilla chips, guacamole and salsa, take a moment to reflect on Cinco de Mayo, and give thanks to 4,000 Mexican rebels.

To understand the significance of this non-holiday you have to go back to the mid 1800s when the Mexican Treasury found itself in debt after a series of country chingasos - wars. Their debtors, European Super Powers, (Britain, Spain and France) all lined up for payment. In response and as a strategy to keep his country out of bankruptcy, Mexican President Benito Juarez declared that all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years, beginning 1861. In retaliation France, Britain and Spain sent out their big gun naval forces to collect their money. Ultimately Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico, settled the score, and withdrew. But, not the French - Napoleon III wanted his francs and a New World Empire to place another crown.

So in late 1861 a well-resourced, fancy uniformed, French fleet landed in Veracruz, Mexico to collect their debt. When word got out that the best army in the world, undefeated for 50 years, was on its way, President Juarez and his government retreated. It took months for the French to navigate through Mexico and by May 1862 they found themselves in Puebla. However, they but did not find a welcome mat. This village did not believe in "Mi Casa es su Casa" when it came to the invading French.

As 8,000 French soldiers, under the command of royal blood General Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Comte de Lorencez, headed into Puebla they came "mano a mano" with 4,000 brave Mexican villagers, farmers, and guerrilla soldiers. Although they didn't "have no stinking fancy uniforms" they had cojones, pitchforks, and macho. On May 5, 1862, on a rainy day, 4,000 Mexicans crushed the French army with their rustic weapons - humiliating them in the process. Casualties included 462 French and 83 Mexicans.

After the victory Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin sent a one-line letter to President Juarez: "Las armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria" ("The national arms have been covered with glory"). This famous phrase is included, along with Zaragoza's face on the Mexican 500-peso. Although the Mexicans won the battle, they did not win the war. A year later the French returned, and as victors installed His Imperial Majesty Don Maximiliano as Emperor of Mexico.

Some historians argue that France's real mission was to further divide the American Union, at the time in the middle of a civil war, by aiding the southern Confederacy. However, the defeat of the French army in Puebla, Mexico, denied Napoleon III the opportunity to resupply the South for another year. In turn this allowed the United States to build a powerful army that ultimately defeated the Confederate forces in Gettysburg - 14 months after the Battle of Puebla.
So, for all these reasons and more bars are crowded on May 5th and rivers of margaritas are consumed. But remember the real reason for Cinco de Mayo - the pride of the Mexican people and power of the underdog. "We don't need no fancy uniforms - to win the war."

Viva Cinco de Mayo!