[column type=”1/4″] [/column] [column type=”3/4″ last=”true”] You have to see the surprised look in someone’s face when I explain that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day.  I go on to tell them that Mexico celebrates its ultimate independence from Spain on September 16th and that Cinco de Mayo is more commonly observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. The observance actually originated with Mexican American communities in the western United States during the first years of our U.S. Civil War. [/column] [clear]

If I haven’t lost them at this juncture, I go on to indicate that Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates Mexico’s victory on May 5, 1862 over an overwhelmingly large, French army at a battle that took place in the city of Puebla, Mexico. The battle was not a major win against the overall war with the French, but it was a significant morale boost for the Mexican troops and the Mexican people.

But a lesser known, startling fact is that Cinco de Mayo may have been very important to U.S. history for a more obscure reason. A number of historians and scholars believe that France’s real goal was to ultimately use Mexico to break up our newly forming Union of States by helping the southern Confederacy.

If France’s Napoleon Bonaparte would have won the battle at Puebla at that time, France would have gained control of Mexico’s presidency and would have controlled the U.S.’s southern ports. It is theorized that France would have gone on to aid the South in the U.S. Civil War and the destiny of the United States could have been very different.

Although Cinco de Mayo was only one battle in a country’s longer struggle for independendence, it analogizes the same kind of effort that one’s life often takes when we need to build upon our many successes and/or failures, to ultimately achieve our goal (and win the war). And when we look at our own life’s progression there is rarely a single event that affects major change. It is through a compilation of hard work, our education, our experiences, our families, mentors and friends that add up together to help us succeed. Much like the Battle of Puebla, our ability to overcome our own struggles can unknowingly, affect and benefit others and your spirit may be your greatest armament and your source of victory.

Just as we face battles that can appear lost before they are even fought, so too the challenges of our own city can seem like overwhelming battles where we are not the likely winner. It can be difficult to recognize our own city’s success when poverty, racism, pollution, crime and other difficult issues continue to affect so many around us. It is easy to become disheartened but we can find comfort and hope in the generation of emerging leaders in our communities and with the organizations working hard to create opportunity for our city’s youth.  Organizations such as: the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, New Detroit’s Leadership Institute/Youth Summit, DAPCEP, Alternatives for Girls, Michigan United, City Year, ACCESS, U of M’s Semester in Detroit, Black Family Development, SER Metro Detroit and many, many others.

In order for all of us to be successful I believe it is important that we see and understand the larger picture and importantly, do what we can to support those positive efforts around us to enhance our spirit. And like my Cinco de Mayo analogy, one never knows how important one simple act that takes place against seemingly overwhelming odds, may ultimately be enough to turn the battle that wins the war.