Uncovering Cinco de Mayo's Tejano Roots

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that has become a day of celebration as much in this country as it is south of the border.

Here, it's celebrated with parties, food and dance, but many don't realize that there is a Texas connection with a Civil War twist surrounding the Battle of Puebla.

The Battle of Puebla was fought by Mexican soldiers defending the state against French forces, and on May 5, 1862, the Mexican Army declared victory. What many don't know is that the general who led the Mexican Army was from Texas -- General Ignacio Zaragoza of Goliad, Texas.

"As he went to fight the French in 1862, when they invaded Mexico, he picked up many of his solders in towns in the vicinity of Alice, Ben Bolt, Palito Blanco and the Rio Grande Valley," said Dr. Manuel Flores, a journalism professor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. "Those were his officers, Tejanos were his officers. So that holiday really became a Tejano holiday in this part of what was Mexico then."

Flores said Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in South Texas since 1863, before Texas was part of the United States, adding that what General Zaragoza did to stop the French invasion of Mexico not only changed the course of history for Mexico, but for the United States as well.

"Had the French gained a complete stronghold in Mexico, they would have come over and helped the confederacy and maybe impacted the result of the Civil War," Flores said.

Three years ago, Governor Rick Perry declared that Cinco de Mayo should also be celebrated as a Texas holiday, and so now, Cinco de Mayo is also known as Tejano Heritage Day in honor of General Zaragoza and his South Texas Army.


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