Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but its roots are in Texas. The holiday celebrates the victory of a Mexican army over the French on May 5, 1862.

The army was led by Maj. Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, one of the most interesting Texans in history.

Zaragoza was born at Presidio de la Bahía, at what is now Goliad. The fort guarded Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga and the settlement that grew up around it.

In the days of Spanish rule, educated men came to the Texas wilderness to try to create a city of God among native peoples.

The grand experiment failed.

Ignacio Zaragoza’s father, Sgt. Miguel Zaragoza, was an infantryman at the fort.

The Texas Revolution divided the family when Ignacio was 7.

A relative of Ignacio’s mother, Juan Seguin, became vice president of the Republic of Texas. Sgt. Zaragoza remained loyal to the Mexican government.

After the revolution, Sgt. Zaragoza settled in Matamoros. Ignacio’s parents sent him to a seminary in Monterrey. Ignacio Zaragoza did not take to the priesthood but thought he might have military talent.

When he was rejected for admission into the academy for cadets, he signed on as a militiaman. As a teenager, he fought Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War.

President Juarez recognized Zaragoza’s ability and made him minister of war.

With the United States preoccupied with its own civil war, France sent an army to occupy Mexico in a dispute over debts.

But on May 5, 1862, Zaragoza led a Mexican army against the French at Puebla. The conventional wisdom was that no Mexican army could stand up against one of the best professional armies of Europe.

Zaragoza proved everyone wrong. The victory stunned everyone — friend and foe alike.

Zaragoza was recalled to the capital to receive the Benemérito de la Patria. Somewhere along the way, he contracted typhoid. He died at 33.

Puebla was not the decisive battle of the war.

It took years for Mexico to get rid of the French.

But through the long war, Mexican soldiers remembered something they learned under a young general from Texas — the taste of victory.

Heber Taylor is editor of The Daily News.

(10) comments

Carlos Ponce

The Mexican army won the battle but lost the war. It wasn't until The United States intervened following our Civil War that the French were removed from Mexico in 1867. Cinco de Mayo is not a National Holiday in Mexico but a regional one celebrated around Puebla where the battle was fought. And why do we celebrate it here? Corona beer wanted a promotion to boost cerveza sales in the United States so promoted Cinco de Mayo here to do so. And it worked. A better date to celebrate Mexican culture would be 16 de Sept. - Mexican Independence Day. Strange that most Texas schools make a big deal out of Cinco de Mayo but not March 2 - Texas Independence Day or December 29-Texas Statehood Day (Whoops, we're in the middle of Christmas Holidays!)

Miceal O'Laochdha

Quite right about the co-opting of ethnic holidays and religious holidays by beer and liquor companies, Carlos. No doubt all those drunk gringos ranting in the streets about Cinco De Mayo are just as offensive to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as all the drunks wearing "Kiss me I'm Irish" buttons while pouring green beer down their shirt fronts each St. Paddy's Day are to Irish and Irish-Americans.

What started as a holiday for proud Irish-Americans to show their numbers and solidarity in the America, has been so disgustingly co-opted by booze peddlers that it has spread back to Dublin, so Guinness and Jameson can jump on the profit bandwagon too. I am surprised Corona has not yet figured out how to expand Cinco de Mayo to Mexico City in a big way. "Plenty good money to be made..."

Carlos Ponce

Don't worry about Corona. Pueblitos along the frontera (border) and tourist traps look for any excuse for a beer bash and to sell cerveza to los turistas. I never touch the stuff myself. I prefer a good wine. Try Haak's Vineyards in Santa Fe, Texas. After a tour of the vineyard and wine cellar they'll let you sample some.

Lars Faltskog

I don't think that folks who like to drink are swayed any more or any less by the hype that the beer/wine/whiskey companies "amp" up when any holiday approaches.

And what about Christmas? Wasn't it centuries past that there were no malls, nor internet sites to buy gifts to perpetuate the profit and mercantilism? We can't turn back time. Next holiday: Memorial Day. People will drink, and many will respectfully do so in honor of our military men and women. SKOAL!

Carlos Ponce

If they drink on Memorial day respectfully in honor of our military men and women I honor that tradition. As for me I will remember those who have given their lives in defense of our country. The Santa Fe Old School Museum maintains a Wall of Remembrance of those who have died in the Hitchcock- Santa Fe Area in Service of our Country. There are also other county memorials to the fallen.

Gary Miller

I think its great Latinos can celibrate Cinco De Mayo. Or Italiens celibrate St. Patrics day.
Not being a Latino or Irish I celibrate neither. How many Mexicans celibrate the fourth of July? I do celibrate their American right to celibrate their hollidays.

Lars Faltskog

I agree, ! IHOG! Ethnicity in my family runs plain and ordinary, so it's fun to have a taste as to what other cultures do/celebrate.

Did y'all hear about MSNBC getting in trouble and then later apologizing for making a promo about Cinco de Mayo, and one of their reporters wore a touristy "sombrero" and was drinking some form of tequila? It's on YouTube, if anyone so desires to see it. It was indeed a story promotion FAIL.

Carlos Ponce

sverige, you weren't around for the "Frito Bandito" - the Fritos mascot used from 1967 to 1971. He wore a big yellow sombrero, a white outfit, brandished two guns and two bandoliers. He was determined "culturally insensitive" and racist so his commercials were removed. I thought he was "cool".
Ay, ay, ay, ay! oh, I am dee Frito Bandito. I like Frito's Corn Chips. I love them, I do. I want Frito's corn chips. I'll get them, from you.

Lars Faltskog

Response to carlosrponce posted at 8:39 pm on Wed, May 7, 2014:

I think a lot of the disapproval of this latest MSNBC event and Frito Bandito is because, for so long, many groups were not taken seriously. If you weren't white/male and in a 3-piece suit, then you were not part of the upper echelon.

I wonder if there ever will come a day when all of us, regardless of our appearance, can laugh at ourselves if and when our personality/appearance is satirized. Then again, certain things just aren't funny. For instance, not funny is a costumed depiction of a Nazi or, let's say, Rolf from "Sound of Music". I wonder if any Eskimos are offended when Eskimo Pies or Klondite bars are being advertised. It can be a sensitive thing...probably best not to characterize unless the ones trying to humorously characterize are ready to be deemed "insensitive".

Carlos Ponce

I'm just glad to see Speedy Gonzales return in the new Looney Tunes. He was also determined "racist" by the politically correct. He is now running a pizza restaurant with fast service. Arriba arriba, ándale!

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