On this Cinco de Mayo, I encourage everyone to watch Mo Rocca's piece from today's CBS Sunday Morning on U.S. expansionism and what it means to Mexico. Rather than discuss the 1862 Battle of Puebla, which is the Mexican victory over France celebrated on Cinco de Mayo, Rocca discusses a far more important topic, the defeat of Mexico by the U.S. during the "Mexican War," known in Mexico as the "Invasión Estadounidense a México," (translation: U.S. Invasion of Mexico). In this war, which was instigated by the U.S. as part of the larger strategy of Manifest Destiny and "conquering" the West, the U.S. would gain about 55% of Mexico's territory through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Furthermore, it was the first U.S. war to have widespread protests, especially in the northern states, including the protests by Henry David Thoreau leading to his imprisonment (which he wrote about in "Civil Disobedience") and a passionate House speech by freshmen Congressman Abraham Lincoln.
Above: A map of the Empire of Mexico, circa 1835.
The war and the subsequent territory-grab is rarely taught today in U.S. classrooms. Yet, it may be one of the most important events in U.S. history. This event can help explain to students why so much former Mexican land is now part of the United States and why Latino culture is ingrained in the culture of places like California, Texas, and Arizona. It explains a change from the defensive to offensive use of the American military in the mid-19th century, which in many ways persists today. It ultimately contributes to students' understanding of the Civil War, which is rooted in the expansion of not only territory, but also slavery, after the war. Rather than thinking about Mexico once a year on May 5th, or worse, banning the teaching of Mexican American Studies altogether (as has been done in Arizona), I encourage history teachers to regularly integrate the U.S. Invasion of Mexico and other Mexican American historical events into their curricula. This will truly help students realize that Mexican and Latino history is American history.