Mexico’s rich history and culture has inspired the cuisine and drinks we serve here at Salena’s. To give you a better picture of our inspiration, we have highlighted a brief history of Mexico along with some places and people of interest throughout this vastly diverse country. Mexican culture is best seen through its people and their history. And like America, Mexican holidays are as important to their national spirit. Out of these traditions come some of the wonderful dishes we do our best to replicate here at Salena’s.
A Brief History:
Ancient Cultures of Mexico
The Aztecs were a highly developed society with an extensive reign of power throughout Central and Southern Mexico. Their military and political systems were well-organized and maintained by the central authority in Tenochtitlan, the formidable capital city. Before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, the Aztec nation boasted a population of around 5,000,000 people.
Development amongst the Aztecs was extensive in architecture, art, mathematics, and astronomy. Oral traditions existed in philosophy, history, and poetry. Picture writing was also evolved and is a main reason why we know so much about the Aztecs today. Commerce thrived with the production of textiles and pottery as well as an advanced agricultural system.
The Aztecs worshipped many gods in their polytheistic religion. The most notable god of their religion was the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. Worship for this god spun a system of human sacrifice unrivaled in written history. The priesthood of the Aztecs, a very powerful group both religiously and politically, was convinced that the people would revolt at any opportunity. Human sacrifice was employed not only for religious worship but to maintain control of the masses.
The Maya, like the Aztecs, were also a highly developed society. Located on throughout the Yucatan and into Chiapas as well as Guatemala and Honduras, the Maya originally organized themselves into city-states with ruling groups. It wasn’t until after 1000 AD that they centralized themselves in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. Upon the arrival of the Spanish, the population was in the range of nearly 500,000 people.
Mayan developments in engineering, art, and architecture were highly advanced. They had even developed an intricate mathematical system including a concept of zero and an extremely accurate calendar system during that time period. While there was no writing system developed, the Mayan transmitted history and religion orally. Agriculture was productive and highly advanced encouraging a wide spread system of commerce.
Religion was also polytheistic and mostly humane compared with their Aztec neighbors. The priestly class ruled both politics and religion and maintained learning amongst themselves. Temples were erected for worship complete with causeways and codices.
The Arrival of the Spanish through the Revolution
In 1519, two years after the first European set foot on Mexican soil, Hernan Cortes led the Spanish in the conquest of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. After succeeding in taking the capital, the Spanish set about to make the land a viceroyalty of New Spain which happened in 1538. The process of Christianizing the Indians began about the same time and while the numbers of the Spanish were small, the process worked nonetheless. Even today, modern Mexico is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
The population developed into three segments: Spanish, Indian, and Mestizo (mixed blood). The groups did not mesh well with one another and over time, the friction, along with discontent of Spanish rule contributed to the development of revolutionary ideas inspired by the French. Such famous people as Hidalgo Y Costilla, Vincente Guerrero, and Ignacio Allende put forth several revolutionary efforts fin the early 1800’s. While Guerrero eventually achieved the presidency in 1829, he was soon overthrown by a self-serving Santa Anna who ruled on and off tumultuously for nearly 30 years.
Upon Santa Anna’s eventual overthrow and exile in 1855, a group of men lead by Benito Juarez drafted a reform inspired liberal constitution. It met with bitter opposition from the Conservatives who sought out the help of Napoleon III. It led to the short-lived rise of the empire of Maximillian. Without a lack of funds, Juarez soon regained power but his reform program was never put into place. Porfirio Diaz revolted against Juarez and gained control from 1876 to 1911. During this time period, social unrest festered until it erupted in 1910 led by Francisco Madero.
Throughout the next 24 years several more revolts ensued until 1934. As Lazaro Cardenas became president, reforming measures were made across the board. Education was promoted and illiteracy dropped. Lands were reapportioned and Indians were recognized. Even an agreement with the Church was made. Mexico was stable enough to declare war on the Axis powers in 1942.
CINCO DE MAYO
Cinco de Mayo, today, is best characterized as a day of celebration to honor a culture that fuses Mexican heritage and American life experience.
A Brief History:
Cinco de Mayo (“5th of May” in English) is primarily a regional and not an official holiday in Mexico. A common misconception in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day – September 16, which is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates an initial victory over French Forces at Puebla in 1862. Mexican troops fought along side of Mexican Indians and Peasants who were only armed with machetes, sticks and stones. 4,000 Mexicans against 8,000 French troops including a reconstituted French Foreign Legion.
The French had landed in Mexico (along with Dutch, Spanish and English troops) five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President (and Indian) Benito Juarez. The Dutch, English and Spanish quickly made deals and left. The French, however, had different ideas. The French came to stay.
Emperor Napoleon III’s French Army had not been defeated in 50 years, and were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War.
The French Army left the port of Vera Cruz to attack Mexico City to the west, but had to go through area of Puebla.
Under the command of Texas-born General Zaragosa, (and the cavalry under the command of Colonel Porfirio Diaz, later to be Mexico’s president and dictator), the Mexicans awaited. The French prevailed but the battle of Puebla was significant because it held off the French Army against all odds. With a temporary defeat for the French, the Mexicans had time to regroup their forces around Mexico City. It is the victory at Puebla that is celebrated ever since.
This celebration started in the US by Mexicans in the California area. It is said that students at UCLA caught wind of the party and joined the fun. As the celebration spread across American colleges it caught on with Americans as commercialization of the party took hold.
Join us at Salenas to celebrate Puebla’s victory and follow in the tradition that began in 1863! ¡Viva el Cinco de Mayo!