But the opening reception of the art display on Monday, May 5, also included a lecture that turned on its ear everyone’s notion of why Cinco de Mayo is important. The audience learned about the Battle of Puebla fought on May 5, 1862, which stopped the advance of the French infantry in its tracks—in a quest to recolonize Latin America.
“It’s geared at the general population of Toledo,” said Arturo Quintero, SQACC board president. “This is not the perspective that we as individual citizens of the U.S. look at as Cinco de Mayo. This is an eye-opening, historical perspective of this event, with the geopolitics of everything that occurred in 1862. This is a fabulous story of how Mexican influence generated a different United States today than what we could have had if the Battle of Puebla had not occurred.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins welcomed the visitors to the main library’s McMaster Center and presented proclamations to the SQACC board, the Mexican Consulate based in Detroit, and guest lecturer Dr. Raúl Bringas Nostti, professor in the International Business Administration Department, Universidad de las Américas Puebla.
“Cultural differences are not a barrier to progress. They are ladders to progress,” said Mayor Collins, who grew up in the Old South End as the son of Irish immigrants among many Latino families. “That is a neighborhood of differences—but positive differences.”
Dr. Bringas, a historian, researcher, and social anthropologist, told the crowd that the U.S. was engaged in civil war at the time the French government wanted to recolonize Latin America, including México, which had asserted its independence from Spain just 40 years earlier. The U.S. was operating under its Monroe Doctrine in 1862, which warned European countries to stay out of the western hemisphere.
However, the U.S. was politically unable to enforce such a doctrine, as the North waged war with the Confederate states. The French government, under Napoleon III, had formed an alliance of sorts with the Confederacy.
The French infantry attempted to march from the port city of Veracruz to México’s capital, a mission that took their troops through Puebla. On May 5, 1862, the battle ended in a victory for the Mexican Army over the occupying French forces.
The French eventually overran the Mexicans in subsequent battles, but the Mexican victory at Puebla against a much better equipped and larger French army provided a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and also helped slow the French army’s advance towards México City.
“What the Mexican Army didn’t realize was the significance of this victory in a geopolitical sense,” said Dr. Bringas Nostti, who explained that it would be a year later before France could transport fresh troops to Latin America—and by then, the U.S. Civil War was over and its alliance with the Confederacy fell apart, along with its attempt to establish a Latin American empire.
Dr. Bringas Nostti told the crowd that Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in México, but celebrated regionally—especially in Puebla, with a large parade to mark the significance of the battle. Many US-Americans mistake the holiday as a celebration of Mexico’s independence [which is actually Sept. 16th], which he wrote off as a cultural misnomer.
Over the past few years, Toledo city officials and volunteers have sought a sister cities relationship with Puebla, México. María Rodríguez-Winter, SQACC executive director, traveled there with five other Toledoans at their own expense to explore opportunities and options. One of their stops was a tour of the 190-year old Uriarte Talavera Tile Company, now known as Mexico’s eighth-oldest company.
The sister cities relationship has yet to become official, because the mayor’s offices in both cities have seen new faces enter in the past couple of years. But the tour of the factory and an adjoining art gallery led to Toledo being added to a U.S. tour of the ceramic art display. The Mexican Consulate in Detroit helped to facilitate the artistic and cultural exchange.
A dozen ceramic art pieces are currently on display at each of three Toledo venues: La Galería de las Américas, 1224 Broadway; the Main Library downtown, 325 Michigan St.; and Maumee Valley Country Day School, 1715 S. Reynolds Rd. The artwork will be on display at all three locations through May 24.
“This is a unique opportunity to present something different,” explained Juan Manuel Solana, General Cónsul from the Consulate of México in Detroit. “I believe this show is really magnificent. You have to go to each of these places to really see what comes out of such creativity, while showcasing what I call the synergy of three different cultures: the culture of México, the culture of China, and the culture of Spain.” José F. Casas from the consulate accompanied Sr. Solana to the Toledo library’s display.
The Uriarte Talavera Tile Company and the Universidad de las América Puebla invited 38 artists to create unique pieces of art in talavera, a type of majolica earthenware to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in 2012. The Uriarte Talavera exhibit was funded in part through a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.
On the Internet: www.uriartetalavera.com.mx