[Image by Stevan Dohanos]

Cinco de Mayo is not, as many people suppose, Mexican Independence Day.  It commemorates instead the battle of Puebla in 1862, when a small force of Indian and mixed-blood Mexican soldiers defeated a larger and better-equipped French army during France’s ill-fated attempt to annex Mexico.

It is not a national holiday in Mexico, where it can be observed or not according to the wishes of individual localities.  It is much more universally popular among those of Mexican descent living in the United States, for whom it has become a sentimental celebration of their roots.

Today, for me, it’s a time to grieve over Mexico’s current troubles, its drug-war violence and its struggles with the new strain of flu that has sickened and killed so many there.  The gracious day-to-day civic culture that governs most of Mexico is under siege in a heartbreaking way, and we should all take a moment today to ask that country’s patron saint, La Morenita, La Reina de Mexico, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, to show her people a way out of the nightmare.

The time I’ve spent in Mexico has always been magical and inspiring — may it become so once again for the millions of good and kind people who live there.