Columbia & Cinco de Mayo

What is Columbia’s significance in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo?

Columbia CA in the 1850s

Columbia is on the historical record as having the first spontaneous celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. The swell of pride in the victory gained such momentum within the Mexican American community that they raised money for a commemorative sword of honor to be presented to General Zaragoza, who led the battle. The raising of money was made possible in part, because of the network of well-established and respected Latino aid societies (for both men and women): called Las Juntas Patrióticas. Columbia had a highly active, robust, and civic-minded Latino community as did Sonora by 1862. If this were not the case, there would have been no public groundswell of celebration that lasted for years afterwards.

The spirit of Cinco de Mayo represents courage, fortitude, conviction, pride, civic responsibility and pancultural unification. It is the story of how Mexican Americans were deeply connected to Mexico’s struggle in addition to the American Civil War. The celebratory pride felt in Columbia, a thousand miles away from Puebla, sent a powerful message of unification and comradery. Las Juntas Patrióticas demonstrated their strong ties and commitment to both war efforts by raising support and sending aid and volunteers to both fronts.

Mexico and the US share a history and destiny. Mexico’s 1813 Chilpancingo’s Constitution banned slavery and gave full citizenship to all mixed and Indigenous peoples- the Mexican Constitution was ratified in 1857-. The US was fighting to abolish slavery and unify the states under one constitution while Mexico was fighting to keep their democracy. Understanding Mexico’s combat against French autocracy within the context of the Civil War gives us the well-spring for the inspiration, hope and pride felt by the Mexican American community upon hearing the victory against the French at the Battle of Puebla.

The importance of Columbia as being the first place where Cinco de Mayo and Mexico’s victory over the French invasion in 1862 was celebrated upon hearing the news. If it were not for a sizable civic-minded Latino community in Columbia who understood the stakes in Mexico and the US, the profound meaning of Cinco de Mayo as a harbinger of democracy may have slipped passed. As it was the uncontained joy, hope and inspiration felt by the Latino American community burst forth and spread throughout California like the ringing of many Liberty Bells.

The story of Cinco de Mayo as an American Tradition is one of many stories that came from the cultural diversity that made up the Gold Rush and its aftermath. These stories have long been overshadowed and some are waiting to be found. Columbia celebrates the spirit of Cinco de Mayo as a continuation of our story as a community: diverse, independent, community-minded, generous in rallying aid and known to erupt in spontaneous and joyous celebrations!