Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican national holiday that commemorates an all-day battle in Puebla, Mexico, when the Mexican military defeated the numerically superior French forces that invaded Mexico in 1861.
Although the 1862 defeat in Puebla slowed down their advance, the French capitalized on political divisions in the country and a weak treasury in order for Napoleon III to establish a monarchy with Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph at its head.
The defense of the homeland acquired extra meaning from the earnest Juárez, who continued to exercise his authority as president and national symbol of mourning, in his elegant black suit, riding a black horse-drawn carriage that miraculously managed to keep him ahead of the French military.
Hostilities finally ended when Mexican forces defeated the French in 1867 and Juárez ordered the execution of Ferdinand and some Mexican monarchists.
In preparation for the famous battle of Puebla, Zaragoza recruited around 500 Tejano cowboys from the Jim Wells County area of South Texas who served as cavalrymen in the fight against French intervention even in the months and years following that actual battle.
Capt. Porfirio Zamora, from Palito Blanco,Texas, served as one of the commanders and received a promotion to the rank of major after the war, as well as the second-highest military medal for bravery, “La Condecoración de Segunda Clase.”
The active efforts to remember him and the Battle of Puebla also contributed to the memory.
News of the battle and Zaragoza’s role as “the General from the Border” and “the native son” of the region, according to the well-known scholar Américo Paredes, arrived in South Texas as early as 1867 when performers like Onofre Cárdenas from San Ignacio, Texas, sang ballads about both.
Texas cemented Zaragoza’s memory as an iconic transborder and transnational hero against foreign aggression by establishing the General Zaragoza State Historic Site near Goliad.
These tenets are still upheld today.