Monday, April 21, 2008

Cinco de Mayo by Don Miles

There might be lots of children's books about Cinco De Mayo, but author Don Miles has put together the first in-depth, adult level edition on this topic in decades. Reviewers say that Cinco de Mayo: What is Everybody Celebrating? is "entertaining, understandable and reader-friendly" (Margaret Neu, On My Nightstand Blog) and that "Cinco de Mayo is an enjoyable read for history buffs, no matter what their favorite nation or time is." (Joy Calderwood, Reviewer's Choice Reviews).

I asked Don about what inspired this book and about the research he performed for Cinco de Mayo. Here's what he had to say:

My inspiration for the book came mainly from my wife, Dr. Minerva Gonzalez-Angulo Miles. Minerva grew up in the neighborhood at the base of Chapultepec Hill in Mexico City, where the Emperor Maximilian's castle still stands. She would often visit the castle and view the portrait of the emperor and empress whose story is featured in this book.

My wife & I traveled extensively throughout Mexico, and visited many libraries and bookstores there in the research for this book. We also spent many hours in the stacks at the Benson Latin American Library at The University of Texas at Austin, which is widely recognized as the premier source for information on this topic. We paid several visits to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. to photocopy various U.S. government documents pertaining to the Mexican situation during the 1860's.

There are many Strange Truths that Don uncovered during his research. I asked him to share some of those with us today.

* As the French soldiers looked up at the convent, something appeared in the window that they never expected. They were being "mooned"!

* It was a windy evening as the women lighted their cooking fires at a Mexican army camp. A few sparks flew into the barn where 32 tons of explosives were stored. Fifteen hundred lives were lost but the French had not yet fired a shot.

* A signed treaty that would guarantee Mexico a U.S. bailout loan and send three invading armies back to Europe was on its way to Washington. It looked as though the mule carrying it was about to roll over in the stream. Learn what happened to the document on its way to the U.S. Senate.

* A nationally famous ballet company from Paris was stopped along the highway. To save their lives and continue to Mexico City--said the bandidos--they would have to give a nude performance.

* Just as the French navy was unloading 700 horses at the Port of Veracruz, a type of hurricane known in those parts as a "norte" struck. What happened next is legendary.

* The French Foreign Legion vowed never to surrender. Sixty-four of them were surrounded by twelve hundred Mexicans. It was a hot day, and their canteens had been filled with wine, not water. It's still the worst defeat in Legion history.

* Three dancing girls at Manuel Gonzalez Wine Bar in Veracruz were tired of being groped by drunken French soldiers. They decided to poison the wine one night, and the overwhelmed commander ordered enemas for the whole company as the troops returned to camp.

* A thousand Confederate soldiers--out of work as the American Civil War ended--buried their flag in the Rio Grande and headed into Mexico to offer their services. Before they reached the border, they got into a shoot-out with a gang that was trying to rob the Texas State Treasury in Austin.

* Should he abdicate or shouldn't he? The French were withdrawing their troops, and Emperor Maximilian was troubled over whether to give up the throne of Mexico. He gathered his advisers and put the question to them: they would decide while he took the day off to go butterfly hunting!

* A Vermont farm girl ran away to become a bareback rider in the circus. Watching a recruiting parade in Washington, she met and married a prince from Westphalia who had become an officer in the Union army. This same "princess" and her husband later wound up in Mexico--fighting for Emperor Maximilian--and she found herself on her knees with her arms wrapped around the legs of Mexico's president, pleading for the emperor's life and that of her husband. Brief appearances on Pages 18, 73, 107, 137, 149 and 174, with her "grand finale" in Chapter 34 on Pages 227 through 235.

You'll find more Strange Truths at Don's website. You'll also be able to read about why Cinco de Mayo has evolved into such a popular holiday in the United States that it draws larger crowds here than in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo: What is Everyone Celebrating? is available in paperback and hardcover through iUniverse.

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