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Goliad's Cinco de Mayo celebration has ties to historic battle

Aug. 30, 2014 at 3:19 p.m.
Updated Sept. 1, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.

Veah Hernandez, 6, of Berclair pets a baby miniature donkey named Valentino at the Goliad Cinco de Mayo Celebration. Claire Barnhart brought three of her miniature donkeys to entertain kids and to represent the Democratic Party.

Veah Hernandez, 6, of Berclair pets a baby miniature donkey named Valentino at the Goliad Cinco de Mayo Celebration. Claire Barnhart brought three of her miniature donkeys to entertain kids and to represent the Democratic Party.

GOLIAD - Goliad is the official place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, according to a declaration by the Texas Senate in 1999.

The holiday, which commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla, is not widely celebrated in Mexico but has become a staple of Mexican-American heritage in Texas. And perhaps no more so than in Goliad, where the general who lead Mexican troops to victory in Puebla was born.

"Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in Goliad as long as I can remember," said former justice of the peace Emilio Vargas.

Born on March 24, 1829, in Goliad, then called La Bahia del Espiritu Santo, Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza left Texas for Mexico about 1844, where he studied to become a priest. But during a conflict between the liberal and conservative forces in Mexico in the 1850s, Zaragoza joined the army.

Zaragoza first fought French forces in Acultzingo in April 1862 and was forced to retreat. But in May, Zaragoza, using the advantageous defense positions in Puebla, was able to hold back the larger, better-equipped French army, which eventually retreated.

"It became one of the most outstanding historical events in Mexican history. No one expected them to succeed on that day," Vargas said.

Zaragoza died the same year as his victory, and the French army eventually defeated Mexico, ruling from 1864 to 1867.

"But it changed the culture of Mexico. It brought pride to the people of Mexico because they were up against the best army in the world: France," Vargas said.

The story of Zaragoza parallels the story of David and Goliath, who Goliad is said to have been named after. Though, another theory is that Goliad is an anagram of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a leader of the Mexican War of Independence.

Zaragoza's roots in Goliad were unknown until 1964, when on a trip to Mexico City, a Texas resident found a Zaragoza monument stating that the famous Mexican general was born in Goliad.

Since the discovery, the Goliad General Zaragoza Society, formerly the Sociedad Mutualista de Cuauhtemoc after the last great Aztec chief, has been determined to preserve Goliad's ties with Mexico and the significance of Cinco de Mayo festivities.

The township of about 2,000 celebrates the historic event every year with live traditional Mexican music, including Tejano, conjunto and mariachi performances, ballet folklorico dancers and a barbecue cook-off. Entrance to the fiesta grande, held at the Goliad Fairgrounds, is free, with vendors that sell food, drinks and crafts.

"It has opened the doors for Goliad. It is something that we are all very proud of. That's one of the reasons we hope our youth will continue with the traditions," Vargas said.

Every year, the Zaragoza Society hosts a pageant to commemorate Goliad's Cinco de Mayo festivities. Vargas' granddaughter won this year's Miss Zaragoza.

"It was great. I was really excited," said Maricella Vargas, 17, of Goliad.

Maricella won the Junior Miss Zaragoza and Little Miss Zaragoza when she was younger.

"Getting the third crown was a great feeling," she said.

As queen, Maricella hopes to spread the pride and knowledge she has of Goliad's historic significance in Mexican-American history. She and her grandfather hope to do presentations on Goliad history.

"People should celebrate Cinco de Mayo because it's something to celebrate," she said.

The General Zaragoza Society invites guests from Goliad's sister city, Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to participate in the festivities. Hidalgo is the birthplace of Zaragoza's wife, Rafaela Padilla.

"We are linked by history," Vargas said of Goliad and its sister city.

During the Cinco de Mayo weekend celebration, members of the Hidalgo delegation and local elected officials typically give speeches about the day's significance and Mexican and Mexican-American heritage.

"As I was growing up, I remember it was an all-day affair," Vargas said of the speeches. "We still carry the old tradition of celebrating Cinco de Mayo and educating people on why we are celebrating."


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