05/04/04 — Cinco de Mayo celebrations set

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Cinco de Mayo celebrations set

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 4, 2004 1:59 PM

Cristina Palomec says she was surprised when she came to Goldsboro and found that few people celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

On Wednesday, which is Cinco de Mayo, she and some co-workers plan to hold a bash at the Torero's restaurant in downtown Goldsboro. Only one of her co-workers, Francisco Montañez, knew the history of Cinco de Mayo.

It is not Mexico's Independence Day, as many people think. The country's Independence Day was Sept. 16, 1910.

Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery and victory of a small, outnumbered militia that defeated the French, a major war machine of their time, at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

The battle came during a violent and chaotic time in the history of Mexico, which had finally gained independence from Spain in 1821. After that, there were several internal political takeovers and wars, including the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War. These wars had mostly wiped out the national economy.

Mexico had accumulated heavy debts to several nations. The other countries said, "No problem. Pay us when you can." But the French said, "We're going to take over your country."

France was eager to add to its empire and used the debt issue to move forward with goals of establishing its own leadership in Mexico. The French government installed Napoleon's relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.

On May 5, 1862, a small, poorly armed, "weak" militia of about 4,500 men stopped and defeated the French army of 6,500 well-fed, well-trained and well-armed soldiers.

This temporarily stopped the invasion of the country.

Upon hearing the news, Napoleon sent 30,000 more troops to invade Mexico. After a year of fighting, the French deposed the Mexican army, took over Mexico City and installed Maximilian as the ruler of Mexico.

Maximilian's rule of Mexico was short lived, too. With the American Civil War now over, the United States began to provide more political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French, after which Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans.

"I asked a couple of people here what are you doing for Cinco de Mayo?" said Senora Palomec. She said she's getting used to the relative quiet of Wayne County, since moving from California three months ago.

Some people she asked didn't even know what Cinco de Mayo was. That's when she had the idea of throwing a party at the restaurant, "because we have different cultures in the U.S. Everybody celebrates something. On the west coast, the Mexican people are very involved in the holiday. Here, they're subdued. Maybe they think the East Coast doesn't celebrate their culture. ... Maybe they're afraid to come out. ... It's almost like the people here forgot about it."

The celebration downtown will begin Wednesday and continue until Saturday, with free T-shirts for the adults and free sombreros for the children. On Saturday, the children will open a piñata.

"In Mexico, it's a week-long fiesta," she said. "A lot of people close their businesses. ... It's a festive, happy celebration of the Mexican people winning the victory."

The Mexican people are hard-working people, said the manager, Miguel Gomez. "They do much for their children. They deserve the celebration. And when they see the Americans celebrate, too, they will realize, yes, Americans celebrate with us."

Juvencio Peralta at Carolina Turkey Co. says several Cinco de Mayo celebrations are going on in different communities. Although things are quiet in Wayne and Duplin counties, he said, a big festival started Sunday at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, and another one is planned for the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

In Wayne and Duplin, he said, the big celebration is in September for the whole Latino community, involving all of the Hispanic countries. "Cinco de Mayo is Mexican, and Mexico has a lot of holidays," he said, "especially when it comes to revolution and independence."