May 01, 2011

Cinco de Mayo - History

Cinco de Mayo—or the fifth of May—commemorates the Mexican army's 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War. It is not Mexico's independence day, as is commonly believed.

History of Cinco de Mayo:  In 1861, the liberal Mexican Benito Juárez became president of a country in financial ruin, and he was forced to default on his debts to European governments. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.

Certain that French victory would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a rag-tag force of 2,000 loyal men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well-provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers to the fewer than 100 Mexicans killed.

Although not a major strategic victory in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza's success at Puebla represented a great moral victory for the Mexican government and tightened Mexican resistance. Six years later, France withdrew. 
Cinco de Mayo Today:  In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely triumph occurred. In the United States, however, it has taken on significance as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations. Revelers mark the holiday with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano. Some of the largest festivals are held in Portland, Denver and Chicago.

(Source: The History Channel website. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from

Foods to Help Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
The recipes that we've selected are from the "Vegi-Mex" Cookbook by Shayne & Lee Fischer. Permission to print granted by Golden West Publishers, 4113 N. Longview, Phoenix, AZ 85014.

Baked Fiesta Dip
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) VEGETARIAN REFRIED BEANS
  • 1 can (4 oz) diced GREEN CHILES
  • 2 JALAPEŇOS , finely chopped
  • 1½ cups shredded JACK CHEESE
  • 1 ONION, chopped
  • 1 GREEN BELL PEPPER, chopped
  • 1 can (4 oz) sliced BLACK OLIVES
  • 1 TOMATO, chopped
  • 3 GREEN ONIONS, chopped
Combine beans, chiles and jalapeños and spread on large oven-proof platter (or pizza pan). Sprinkle with cheese. Add onion, bell pepper and olives. Bake at 325° for 15 minutes. Top with tomatoes and green onions and serve with tortilla chips.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers
  • 1½ cups cooked RICE
  • 1 TOMATO, finely diced
  • 2 GREEN ONIONS, finely chopped
  • 1 can (4 oz) diced GREEN CHILES
  • 1½ cups shredded JACK CHEESE
  • ½ tsp GARLIC SALT
  • ¼ tsp PEPPER
  • ½ tsp OREGANO
  • 3 Tbsp SALSA
  • 1 EGG, slightly beaten
  • 1 can (8 oz) diced TOMATO SAUCE
Try to choose block-shaped bell peppers so they will stand in a baking dish. Wash and seed bell peppers. Set in baking dish. In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, tomato, onions, green chiles, cheese, seasonings, salsa and egg. Blend well. Fill each pepper with rice mixture. Pour tomato sauce over peppers and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 45 minutes.  Serves 8.