Today is Cinco de Mayo, and as I am a Mexican history buff, I thought I'd post about it. And allow me to say that by buff, I really mean enthusiast, certainly not expert.
Contrary to popular American belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day or any other such nonsense. The Mexicans have a number of independence days actually, given the number of revolutions they've sustained. But the traditional Mexican independence, or the Grito de Delores, is celebrated on September 16th - that is when the official call for independence from Spain went out in 1810.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates General Zaragoza's victory over the French in 1862 when those bastards sent troops in (with the help of the Brits and the Spanish) to force payment of Mexico's crippling debt. President Juarez had made arrangements with the countries for the repayment, the Brits and the Spaniards left, but the French refused to go. Por que? Because Emperor Napolean III wanted to take over Mexico. Zaragoza's outnumbered army spanked the French and sent them on their way, although the French did eventually take over Mexico a couple years later.
It's impossible to read about the rich history of Mexico and not feel a deep and abiding respect for her people. Talk about a country that's been shit on by the rest of the world. Wikipedia's Mexican history entry is actually pretty good and I recommend it if you're interested. In the meantime, as the Mexican presidential election approaches (Mexican presidents are held to one term of 6 years, so Vincente Fox cannot run again) I'll have more to say on the matter.
Also, for an insightful look into what it's like to live in Mexico today for a cross-section of people, I highly recommend Mexican Lives by Judith Adler Hellman.