Texas HistoryToday in Texas History: The Texas-Born Hero of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, a long-celebrated holiday honoring the Mexican heritage of many Texans, has as its hero a native Texan born near Goliad.
May 5, 2022
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Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, has long been celebrated in Texas as a holiday associated with honoring the state’s Mexican cultural heritage with food, drink, and live entertainment. 

However, it is based on historic events, and the hero of Cinco de Mayo is a native-born Texan, General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin.

Zaragoza, who was born in 1829 at La Bahia near present-day Goliad, was a relative of the Texas Revolutionary hero Juan Seguin, according to the Handbook of Texas. Zaragoza eventually led the Mexican army in defeating the French at Puebla on May 5, 1862. 

After Texas won its independence, Zaragoza’s family returned to Mexico, where he was educated. He joined the movement of Benito Juarez, who appointed Zaragoza to the ministry of war and navy. According to Britannica, Juarez was a constitutional reformer who helped establish Mexico as a democratic federal republic. 

Invited by the exiled Mexicans, Napoleon sent Maximilian to rule Mexico in opposition to the growing power of Juarez. Zaragoza, who resigned from the ministry to lead the Army of the East, fortified the defenses of Puebla and led the Mexican army to defeat the French there.

The Texan Tumbler

Puebla is located southeast of Mexico City and north of Veracruz. Although the one-day battle was only the beginning, it is believed that it sufficiently weakened the French army and shortened their intervention in Mexican affairs. Five years later, the French were finally defeated and Maximilian was executed.

Zaragoza was honored in August of 1862 as a hero in Mexico City. He returned to Puebla in September and died of typhoid there on September 8.

In the 1960s, the state of Texas established the General Zaragoza State Historic Site at the location believed to be Zaragoza’s birthplace near Goliad. In 1980, a 10-foot tall bronze statue of Zaragoza was donated to Texas by the state of Puebla and now stands at the Goliad State Historical Park, near his birthplace. 

There is also a statue of Zaragoza in the border town of Laredo that was donated to the city by the Mexican government. On it is a quote attributed to Zaragoza that is translated, “People of Mexico, the children of this generation have been born in freedom, and we must keep it, or die in the demand.”

Although Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday in Mexico, it has been celebrated in Texas since the 19th century and has become increasingly celebrated across the United States in recent years. 

The early celebrations featured people of Mexican heritage wearing traditional costumes, listening to speeches, singing folk songs, dancing, and of course, eating. Celebrations continue all over the state and not much has changed about their format.

One of the earliest organized celebrations took place in the West Texas town of San Angelo in 1910. It held a large parade and featured Mexican bands. San Angelo still holds Cinco de Mayo festivals today.

In 1920, Houston began hosting celebrations. It featured a historical drama at Teatro Azteca called “Maximiliano,” about the battle at Puebla and the defeat of Maximilian.

San Antonio has also featured prominent Cinco de Mayo festivals over the years and this year is no exception. The Historic Market Square will host a festival on the weekend following Cinco de Mayo, May 7 and 8. It will feature artists, vendors, folklórico dance performances, mariachi music, and of course, food. 

There will also be a Cinco de Mayo festival on the south side of the city at the Mission County Park on May 7. It will feature food, live entertainment, and a salsa cook-off competition. 

In Laredo, the Mexican Consulate General is hosting a soccer tournament to celebrate the holiday. The goal is to “help promote health in both the Mexican and American communities in Laredo.”

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.