The truth about 5 de Mayo


Mr. Herb Canales is a fifth-generation resident of Corpus Christi, Texas. He served as the city of Corpus Christi’s library director for 27 years. Mr. Canales named his essay: 5 de Mayo “A crash course in U.S. foreign policy“.

May 5, 1862, represents an important victory for Mexico at the Battle of Puebla against French forces, and as such – take note, those who wish to celebrate only dates singularly American – it was a victory for U.S. foreign policy. This is most clearly understood within the context of the Monroe Doctrine.

It should be noted that it would not be until 1867 that the French occupation of Mexico would end – with the capture and execution of Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been offered the crown of Emperor by Mexican politicians in a politically divided country under the presidency of Benito Juárez.

What sparked the French occupation was debt. Juarez had placed a moratorium on debt payments to foreign powers, and while England and Spain negotiated or waited, Emperor Napoleon III of France saw this move by Juarez as an opportunity to intervene.

A copy of the Jan. 27, 1865 New York Herald detailing France's presence in Mexico.
A copy of the Jan. 27, 1865 New York Herald detailing France’s presence in Mexico.

It is frequent that I hear, “Americans have no business celebrating Cinco de Mayo,” which in their view is singularly Mexican. It is not. And that is because of James Monroe, fifth president of the U.S., who in 1823, in an annual message to Congress not otherwise noteworthy, warned European powers against further attempts at colonization of or installation of puppet regimes in the Americas.

This became known as the Monroe Doctrine, which for the last two centuries has served as the basis for U.S. foreign policy relating to the Americas: Allende in Chile, the Soviet Union’s plan to build missile launchers in Cuba, the capture of Manuel Noriega in Panama, to name a few.

Recently I purchased an original 1865 New York newspaper that boldly reported on the French in Mexico. At the height of the U.S. Civil War, the French in Mexico was big news.

Indeed, another reason for French intervention was in fact to curtail growing U.S. dominance in the Americas. And had it not been for the Civil War the U.S. might have been more directly involved.

The U.S. never withdrew recognition of Juarez’s government, destabilized as it was by internal strife, but rather provided material support on its behalf following the Civil War as French control waned.

Rene Guzman Glover, a Corpus Christi native, carefully studied the map of Mexico which appeared in the January 27, 1865 issue of “The New York Herald.” Where the “New French Colony” is identified, Rene noted, borders on the place where his great-great grandfather Celso G. Guzman was born – San Juan de los Lagos, Guadalajara, Jalisco.

It would be inevitable that Celso would be called into service against the French. His rations would be pouches of beans and heirloom corn used to make tortillas. Celso moved about from Mexico City to northeastern Mexico.

Rene has been collecting historical material on Hispanic families in the Corpus Christi area for about thirty years whose stories are mostly untold. I met him at the library more than two decades ago. I learned from him that the touted Pier Café, an early waterfront development of nearly 100 years ago and run by the Govatos family for decades, and later as the Nixon Café on the Bluff, was originally owned by my family – the Castañedas, who married into my mother’s Reyna family.

A memorial certificate for Pvt. Celestino E. Guzman Jr. who died during World War II on Jan. 22, 1945.
A memorial certificate for Pvt. Celestino E. Guzman Jr. who died during World War II on Jan. 22, 1945.

A proud former Marine, Rene was part of the mission Operation Just Cause, under President George H. W. Bush, which led to the removal of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1990. Rene was also stationed at Marine Barracks Guantanamo Bay, Cuba when the events depicted in the 1992 film, “A Few Good Men” took place. He muses that attorney Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway did not look anything like actress Demi Moore who portrayed Galloway in the film.

More: The significance of Cinco De Mayo

In recounting the story of his ancestor Celso, Rene notes that Celso eventually settled in South Texas.

In Guzman family lore, Celso is remembered as possessing excellent horsemanship skills and being a great swordsman and shooter. He would be established as a Kenedeño, a term used for the vaqueros who worked for Captain Mifflin Kenedy. Celso’s skills learned in the Mexican military-inspired confidence.

Kenedy selected him as the chuck wagon cook on the cattle drives to Kansas, dangerous as they were with sudden violent attacks from marauding bands. Kenedy purchased Remington rifles for his vaqueros which are described in Guzman family tradition as his military.

Rene points out that his great-great-grandfather Celso admired and loved Mifflin Kenedy. The respect and loyalty were mutual. The Kenedeños referred to Kenedy as “El Capitan,” a term of endearment.

Later Celso would settle in the Clarkwood area and enjoyed visiting the soldiers at Camp Scurry, located in the present-day Del Mar neighborhood, and relaying stories about his own military experience.

Military service was important in the Guzman family. Ex-marine Rene has in his possession a memorial signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated Jan. 22, 1945 – a tribute to Rene’s great uncle Celestino R. Guzman, Celso’s grandson, who died from injuries sustained at the Battle of the Bulge.

What began as military service against the French on the part of Celso Guzman in Mexico, serving the interests of the United States, became through succeeding generations of service in the U.S. military and in one case making the ultimate sacrifice.


Mexico Daily Post