SALSA, a local organization consisting of local Mexican American families, is urging all Americans to take a moment and reflect on the meaning of what Cinco de Mayo represents.

Why? Because it is celebrated in the United States more than in Mexico and most Americans don’t know what or why they are celebrating. The Battle of Puebla was fought on May 5, 1862.

In Brownwood, a Cinco de Mayo celebration had been scheduled for May 1 but did not take place because of COVID-19.

Many Americans confuse the importance of May 5 with the importance of Sept. 16. Quite simply, May 5 marked a major victory in a six-year war against France that was eventually lost. Sept. 16 marked the beginning of the war of independence from Spain in 1810 that ended 300 years of Spanish occupation.

Mexico was in economic ruin in 1861, deeply in debt to Spain, France and England. The newly elected president of Mexico, Benito Juarez, tried to negotiate but only Spain and England settled. France, with its highly trained military, felt more imperialistic so Napolean III decided to invade Mexico.

A well-equipped French force of 6,000 men landed in Veracruz. The plan was to conquer Mexico, invade the United States, and join the South in its fight to secede from the Union. The Battle of Puebla changed all that.

Juarez organized peasants, mostly farmworkers, who rose in defense of their country and defeated the French at Puebla. While the French eventually won the war and installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor, the two years it took them to recover from their defeat at Puebla bought Abraham Lincoln the two additional years he needed to defeat Robert E. Lee and save the Union.

In 1867 Spain eventually gave up and withdrew. Maximilian was captured and executed and Juarez regained the presidency. Today, el Cinco de Mayo is a holiday in the state of Puebla.

Had the French occupation not been delayed by the loss at Puebla, with French help the South could have defeated the North and the United States would have become two countries. The Battle of Puebla on el Cinco de Mayo helped prevent the secession of rebel states and preserved the United States.