Why do people celebrate the Cinco de Mayo, a.k.a. May 5? It depends. Some mark the day as a great military victory, while others view it as a celebration of Mexican heritage. But, despite the common misconception, it’s not the Mexican Independence Day.
Cinco de Mayo in History
I’ll admit, I always thought that Cinco de Mayo was the Mexican equivalent of July 4. To my surprise, it has a lot more in common with the famous battle at the Alamo than Independence Day.
According to History.com, Cinco de Mayo marks the day in 1862 when a rag-tag army of just 2000 Mexicans under the leadership of Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza fought off some 6,000 invading French troops who had been sent by Napoleon III to carve out territory for France. During the roughly 12-hour battle for the town Pueblo de Los Angeles, the French lost nearly 500 soldiers. Losing less than 100 of their men, the Mexican soldiers won the battle.
Just like in the well-known story of the Alamo, a heroic group of hometown underdogs stood firm against a powerful invading enemy who had superior numbers and weaponry. But, where the brave defenders of the Alamo died in a losing battle, the courageous Mexican solders won the day. No wonder the people of Puebla still celebrate the day!
Cinco de Mayo in Mexico
While there are some limited celebrations throughout Mexico, the Cinco de Mayo is celebrated most vigorously in the state of Puebla, notes MexicoOnline.com. There, the day is marked with parades, parties and battle recreations. Despite its impressive history, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a federal holiday in Mexico, so government offices, banks, and other business tend to remain open. For many Mexicans, May 5 is a normal day.
Cinco de Mayo in America
Ironically, Cinco de Mayo is a much bigger deal in some parts of the U.S. than it is in some areas of Mexico. In the 1960s, Chicano activists popularized the idea of marking the day with a celebration of Mexican heritage. Major cities like Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles host Cinco de Mayo festivals where attendees can enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine, mariachi music and Mexican folk dancing at various parties, concerts and parades.
Whether you choose to observe Cinco de Mayo as a historical military victory, a celebration of Mexican heritage, or simply a great chance to party and enjoy Mexican culture, it’s a day worth remembering. Just remember that it isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day. That is actually September 16.
“Cinco de Mayo” — History.com
“The History of Cinco de Mayo” — MexicoOnline.com
“The Alamo” — History.com