¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! How about a little history lesson before we all go back to our tequila and tacos? Because- believe it or not- I’ve found a way to tie it all back in to Outlander. I can do that with most things— just ask my husband.
Okay, so Cinco de Mayo is not actually that big of a deal in Mexico. It’s a much bigger deal in the United States. It is not, as some may believe, a celebration of Mexico’s independence. Rather, it celebrates the victory of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Never heard of the Battle of Puebla? That’s not surprising, since here in the United States our history books tend to focus those years on other things- like, say, Secession, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address.
But while we were busy fighting each other during those years, the Mexicans were busy fighting the French. It’s true! France tricked Britain and Spain into thinking they were all going to try to squeeze money out of the Mexican Government together, but instead they unilaterally invaded and took over Mexico! The war that ensued is known as the Second French Intervention in Mexico, sometimes called the Franco-Mexican war. And it lasted SIX YEARS.
So, yeah, the whole North American continent was kind of a mess. But the Mexican citizens were having NONE OF IT. On May 5, 1862, they fought off the French in the small town of Pueblo, despite being heavily outnumbered. The win provided a huge morale boost to the Mexican army- sort of like the Battle of Prestonpans.
But more than providing morale, the battle was arguably important in helping the Union win the Civil War. How? Well, if the French had won some historians think they would have pushed on and aided the Southern Confederacy (France wanted cheap cotton). If the South had had that support early in in the war the outcome may have been much different.
Okay, so where does Scotland come in? Interestingly, Scotland was emotionally and financially pretty invested in the American civil war, with the country split similarly in terms of loyalty and sentiment. Many in Scotland, identifying with the South as underdogs and having family members in the South (like, say, North Carolina), sided with the Confederacy. But Scotland at that time was also bursting with loud abolitionist political energy. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe both made visits to Scotland during this time and Scotland was seen as the most anti-slavery area in Europe. In fact, Scotland is home to the only Civil War monument outside of the United States:
We know how the history turned out: the Union won and with the Civil War over we were able to help out Mexico and eventually the French government withdrew. We owe the Scottish-Americans and Mexicans who fought during this time a huge thanks.
Despite this really cool history we don’t really celebrate the Battle of Puebla here in the United States when we observe Cinco de Mayo. Instead, the holiday has become more of a general celebration of Mexican culture.
And that’s a very American thing to do. We honor our melting pot of heritages and include everyone in the party. It’s why we celebrate Tartan Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest and Mardi Gras. Most of us in this country are descendants of our own outlanders and we keep our cultural identities alive through holidays and music and food and stories.
Think about where we are headed now with the Outlander story coming into Season 4. The groundwork for the Civil War- with slavery and Southern economics- will all be there. And, in a matter of speaking, now Jamie is the outlander in the New World. In fact, the only character in this series that is truly American- born in the present-day United States, raised in Boston, and speaks with an American accent- is Brianna.
We have to remember our history because our lives are really just a blip in the big picture. Alliances between countries change. As Claire once lamented, there’s always another bloody war. Those who are outlanders now will not be in the future.
So today, as we are drinking fine tequila and eating delicious food, let us recognize our immigrant past, honor our Mexican neighbors, celebrate our cultural differences…and also remember a small town in Mexico that maybe saved America.