Cinco de Mayo is celebrated much more in the United States than in Mexico. It is also totally misunderstood. On May 5, 1862 the Mexican patriots in Puebla repelled the advance of French troops which had been “invited” to Mexico by the Conservative Party to secure the throne of Mexico for Emperor Maximilian of the Hapsburg family. The “invitation” was issued by those who opposed the election of the first indigenous President of Mexico, Benito Juarez.
Juarez was a Zapotecan Indian who had been educated by priests but who rebelled against the idea that only the Roman Catholic Church could be practiced in Mexico. Juarez ran the country literally from a Stage Coach where he traveled in safe areas in the north of Mexico, while Maximilian and his supporters enjoyed the pleasures of the central areas of Mexico. Eventually, with help from Abraham Lincoln, Juarez was able to return to Mexico City and enact major constitutional changes that permitted Protestant churches to send missionaries to Mexico beginning in 1872. The separation of church and state happened in Mexico ten years after the battle of Cinco de Mayo, but in the minds of most Mexicans the fifth of May is the beginning of true religious liberty.