Today people in the United States and parts of Mexico celebrate Cinco de Mayo ("fifth of May"), which often seems synonymous with margaritas and other trappings of Mexican revelry. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16. Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over the French army at the Battle of Pueblo on May 5, 1862.
On that day, General Ignacio Zaragosa Seguín led his troops in a successful battle that would eventually lead to the expulsion of the French from Mexico. Before you reach for your best margarita recipe, peruse a few rare books that give insight into Mexican history.
Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Twenty-Eighth Congress
Here, American President John Tyler addresses the Mexican protest of the proposed annexation of Texas. Published in 1843, these documents offer a glimpse into the burgeoning conflict between the US and Mexico. President Tyler here responds to the decree of Santa Anna, which closed the customs house at Taos. The US would follow through with taking Texas in 1845, a move that resulted in the Mexican-American War.
A Narrative of Major General Wool's Campaign in Mexico in the Years 1846, 1847, and 1848
The French were not the first or last to threaten Mexico's autonomy. The United States annexed Texas in 1845. Mexico considered Texas part of its territory, and the result was the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). General Wool played a pivotal role in the war, and author Francis Baylies had the good fortune to interview Wool for the book. Baylies used both contemporary private and official sources to supplement Wool's firsthand accounts.
The War in Nicaragua
General William Walker's book chronicles his failed attempts to establish himself as the head of an English-speaking colony in Nicaragua. He'd tried the same tactic, known as "filibustering," in Baja, California and Sonora, Mexico. He also attempted to establish a "republic" in Honduras. Walker's private military expeditions met with little success; in all instances, he and his troops were defeated and hastily deposed. Walker was sentenced to death in Nicaragua. He was executed there in 1860, the same year his book was published. Walter's role in the history of Mexico and Latin America is fascinating--and often overlooked.
The Forgotten Village
John Steinbeck's The Forgotten Village is adapted from the eponymous documentary film directed by Herbert Kline and Alexander Hammid. Steinbeck authored the script, and some sources consider the film an ethnofiction, rather than a traditional documentary. The film takes place in the Mexican village of Santiago. The protagonist, Juan Diego, grapples with changes as he and his family strive to balance their traditional way of life with modernization. Originally released in 1941, the film was restored and re-released in 2011. The book adaptation of the film remains an important--and rare--item.
Revolution of Hope
Mexican President Vicente Fox broke the dictatorial one-party rule that had strangled Mexico for over 70 years. He took office in 2000, bringing with him a new vision for the country's future. In Revolution of Hope, Fox outlines that vision and shares his own story of personal triumph. During his six years of presidency, Fox focused on improving relations with the US, reducing government corruption, and strengthening the rights of Mexico's indigenous peoples. President Fox struggled to gain the support necessary for sweeping reform, but his leadership paved the way for democracy in Mexico.
For a selection of books about Mexico, visit our site and click here.