Cinco de Mayo & the Battle of Puebla

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is often compared to the Fourth of July, but it's not Mexican Independence Day. The date commemorates the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, which resulted in a memorable victory against foreign invaders.

At the time, Napoleon III of France was scheming to occupy Mexico. A well-trained and handsomely uniformed army of 6,000, under the command of General Laurencez, landed in Veracruz with the objective of occupying Mexico City. In its path were 4,000 ill-equipped Mexicans under Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza. Despite the odds, the Mexicans won resoundingly. The French were humiliated and suffered their first defeat in nearly a half-century at the hands of the penniless, war-torn republic of Mexico.

For Mexico, it marked the nation's first victory against foreign attack, and the battle remains a matter of national pride. Never mind that by the following year the French were in possession of both Puebla and Mexico City. Today the Cinco de Mayo holiday is an enduring symbol of Mexico's sense of patriotism.

On a trip to Puebla, you can visit the forts of Guadalupe and Loreto, where the battle took place, just north of the old part of the city.

La China Poblana: Princess, Slave, Mystic, Icon

In Puebla you'll notice the iconic figure of "La China Poblana" virtually everywhere. She was a historical figure whose life would make for a great opera. She was a young princess from India (not China) who was captured by Portuguese pirates, sold into slavery, and shipped to Mexico on a Manila galleon in the 17th century. Eventually, she was sold to a rich family of Puebla. This family, impressed with the woman's simplicity and spirituality, adopted her. Thus freed from domestic chores, she delved into a life of religious devotions, mixing elements of her native beliefs with Catholicism. She gradually gained fame as a mystic who led an austere life of prayer and became revered by the population of the city. At her death, she was interred in the church of the Compañía, but church authorities later moved her remains when a cult began to form around them. Her form of dress has become the standard folkloric outfit of the city.

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