Go to any Cinco de Mayo celebration today and ask ten of the patrons what exactly they are celebrating and you're likely to get a range of answers that looks like this:
-- Six drunks slurring that it's Mexico's Independence day
-- Two drunks slurring that it celebrates the invention of the margarita
-- One drunk with his face buried in a plate of chicken enchiladas completely ignoring you
-- One drunk slurring (and likely still butchering) the actual correct answer
Admittedly, for the longest time, I fell into one of the first three categories, so if you've walked up to a friend of yours of Mexican descent today and wished them a "Happy Independence Day," don't feel bad. Just know that you can redeem yourself by (a) buying them a double shot of Cuervo and (b) marking September 16 on your calendar to shoot them a wall message on Facebook to wish them a CORRECT Mexican Independence Day greeting.
As for today, when you're wiping the confectionary sugar from that eighth sopapilla off of your grill, you'll feel better about yourself if you know the actual reason you're getting shitfaced and gorging on an entire page of appetizers at El Tiempo. So here is your Cinco de Mayo history lesson:
Cinco de Mayo is NOT -- repeat, NOT -- Mexico's Independence Day. (In fact, the "holiday" is far more celebrated here in the United States than it is in Mexico.) It actually commemorates one of the great Mexican military upsets of all-time, the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862.
The battle saw an undermanned Mexican army of 4,000 knock off a well-armed French army of 8,000 (backing up the old saying that anything can happen in war when you have the home-turf advantage). This was sort of the 1860's military version of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays beating the Yankees and Red Sox to win the American League, only imagine the Yankees being undefeated for 50 years and Derek Jeter with an annoying French accent and possibly a beret.
Just what were the French doing in Mexico in 1862, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. Around that time, Mexico had been sowing its independent oats for about fifty years; unfortunately, they celebrated their independence by fighting with each other and fighting with the United States. Well, all that fighting costs money, and to foot the bill, Mexico did what any self-respecting nation would do -- they maxed out their military credit cards. They borrowed and borrowed and borrowed from Spain, England, and France.
Finally, in 1861, unable to find a Military Debt Consolidation service to knock his monthly payments down by 40 percent and get him out of debt in three short years, Mexican President Benito Juarez decided to stop paying the vig on his loan installments to his European creditors: Spain, England, and France (fortunately for Juarez' kneecaps, he hadn't borrowed from Italy). The three European countries played the 1860's version of rock/paper/scissors to see who goes to collect from Mexico....and the French lost (four words which would be subsequently uttered roughly a jillion times over the next century and a half).
France succeeded in its first invasion of Mexico, but then on May 5, 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin (or as I like to call him, the "Mexican Joe Maddon") led his spunky group of upstarts into battle against an overconfident French army (probably owned by Georges LeSteinbrennier) and emerged victorious -- in about two hours, no less, which means the Battle of Puebla was about half as long as your typical Felipe Paulino start.
The French and Mexicans hated each other for many more decades until finally in late 1987, peace was negotiated when Ric Martel and Tito Santana united to form Strike Force and become WWF tag team champions...
....ok, I was joking about that last part.
But still, I'll bet you didn't realize that Cinco de Mayo is about celebrating the French getting their asses kicked, which is not a bad way to spend an afternoon! So to help you get ready for Cinco de Mayo properly, I give you exactly CINCO videos of French (and French Canadians) doing what they do best -- surrendering, succumbing, turtling, and rolling over.
1. CLAUDE LEMIEUX TURTLES AGAINST DARREN MCCARTY
BACKSTORY: If you're a hockey fan in the 1990's and you have any bad memories, chances are Claude Lemieux is on the business end of those thoughts. One of the most clutch performers of all-time was also one of the dirtiest players in the league. As someone whose team fell prey to a Lemieux overtime goal in a Game 7 in 1986, I prefer to remember him as the sniveling little turtle in this beatdown from Darren McCarty, revenge for a Lemieux cheap shot against his teammate Kris Draper.
2. ANDRE THE GIANT WAS SCARED OF SNAKES
BACKSTORY: From Grenoble in the French Alps, Andre the Giant was beloved for many years and (mythically) purported to be "undefeated." Well, that all changed in 1987 when Andre turned villain, lost to Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 3, and lived out his wrestling days as the biggest chickenshit heel (literally) in wrestling. Personally, I loved this version of Andre...the "ophidiophobia" version....
3. MARION ROLLAND WIPES OUT
BACKSTORY: I've heard of the French surrendering in battle, on the playing field, and to snakes, but never to a hill. However, that's exactly what happened in this year's Olympics as the incline of the first three seconds of the downhill was apparently too much for French skier Marion Rolland. Au revoir, Marion!
4. BOBBY BACALA CAPS A FRENCH WOMAN BEATER
BACKSTORY: Sometimes, you're forced to do business with people who you don't really care for or have much in common with. If you're business is illegally trafficking diet pills or racketeering, this is especially true. Tony Soprano knows this, and it's probably why he went ahead and assigned this whacking of a French Canadian wife beater to his brother in law, Bobby. "Bobby, you handle this thing with the French guys..."
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5. VINCE CARTER TEABAGS FREDERIC WEIS
BACKSTORY: The exclamation point on the Cinco de Mayo post, since we in America tend to celebrate it more than actual citizens of Mexico, I give you a TEAM USA. punking of big white French stiff (and former Knick draft choice) Frederic Weis by Vince Carter. Suck on that, Freddy.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show", and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.