Cinco de Mayo is a colorful and fun holiday observed annually on May 5. While you may see people dancing, laughing, and enjoying a few tacos and margaritas, not many people will know what the day is about. So why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated? If you’ve always wanted to learn more about Cinco de Mayo history and what Cinco de Mayo is, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to discover the origins of this Mexican holiday and why it’s so popular in the United States.
When Is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo, meaning the 5th of May, is an annual holiday observed on May 5 to celebrate the Mexican army’s victory over the French during the Franco-Mexican war.
History of Cinco de Mayo
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s day of independence. In reality, the day memorializes the events of The Battle of Puebla—which occurred May 5, 1862. Before we dive into this historical battle, let’s set the stage.
Leading up to the Battle of Puebla, Mexico experienced a financial crisis that caused the president at the time, Benito Juárez, to default on loans provided by European countries, including France, Britain, and Spain. As a result, they sent their forces to Mexico and demanded repayment. Juárez successfully negotiated with Britain and Spain, so their forces retreated. However, France lingered in Mexico and saw this as an opportunity to establish a monarchy.
The Battle of Puebla
Juárez rounded up 2,000 men to face off with the French’s 6,000 troops in Puebla and appointed Ignacio Zaragoza as the general. While Zaragoza was inexperienced, he led his men into the small town, and they braced themselves for the attack. On May 5, French troops stormed Puebla de Los Angeles in an effort to gain control of the area. The battle lasted one day and ended when the French finally retreated.
Despite being outnumbered, Mexican soldiers were ready to put their lives on the line for their country. The victory against the French during the Battle of Puebla demonstrated the resilience of the Mexican people against foreign invaders and remains one of the most significant battles in Mexico’s history.
Cinco de Mayo in Mexico
While Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. is often observed with live mariachi, dancing, margaritas, and tacos, Mexico celebrates quite differently. In fact, many Mexican people don’t care about the holiday at all. Out of 31 states, Puebla is the only one that acknowledges Cinco De Mayo as an official holiday. People from Puebla gather to enjoy parades, theatrical reenactments, music, and of course, delicious food.
Mexican Independence Day
If Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, when is it? Mexico’s Independence Day occurs annually on September 16 to commemorate the day Mexico won its freedom against the Spanish regime.
Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.?
One of the possible reasons Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated in the U.S. is due to its roots in the Battle of Puebla. As mentioned earlier, Zaragoza was a general that led Mexican soldiers to victory against the French. He was also a Texas-born revolutionary.
Cinco de Mayo has also become popular among Mexican-Americans, as they use it as a day to honor their heritage. In the 60s, Chicano activists would attempt to raise awareness about the importance of the holiday.
How to Respectfully Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
Despite the fascinating history surrounding Cinco de Mayo, many people continue to use it as an excuse to party rather than to commemorate the events of the Battle of Puebla. But how do you celebrate 5 de Mayo without appropriating the holiday? Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy Cinco de Mayo respectably:
- Support Mexican-owned restaurants. While there are numerous fast food chains that sell crunchy tacos, it’s not quite the same as the cuisine offered by Mexican restaurants. When you purchase food from a Mexican restaurant, not only do you get to enjoy an authentic meal but also support individuals whose history you’re celebrating.
- Get cooking: Another great way to enjoy Cinco de Mayo is to try to cook some traditional Mexican dishes, such as mole, pozole, and enchiladas. You can also make a bouquet for your dining table using popular Mexican flowers.
- Share the history. As you partake in the Cinco de Mayo festivities, take the time to educate others about what happened at the Battle of Puebla a little over a century ago.
- Visit Mexican cultural hubs: Visit museums and art galleries that showcase Mexican art pieces, sculptures, and more. If these institutions aren’t open, consider donating.