- Cinco De Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla when Mexico defeated the French army.
- Cinco De Mayo was popular among Mexican Americans in the 1960s-70s, but then it began to be commercialized.
- Many Mexican Americans have a problem with how Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in the US because the holiday is seen as an excuse to party.
This Cinco de Mayo be on the lookout for sombreros and margaritas at your favorite Mexican restaurant as you celebrate what many they believe is the ‘”biggest Mexican holiday of the year.”
If you thought Cinco de Mayo was Mexican independence day, you’re not alone. In 2020, a survey of YouGov found that only 40% of Americans knew that Cinco de Mayo is not independence from Mexico. The September 16, the Mexican Independence Day.
Although this day celebrates the beginning of the war of independence of 1810, which lasted 11 years, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a historic day.
“It’s about having a good time, going to a good party, and celebrating by drinking beer and wine. Although that clouds the memory a bit of what Cinco de Mayo really represents. But, that commemoration still lives in the memory of the people,” said Irene Vásquez, chair of the department of Chicano and Chicana studies at the University of New Mexico.
“It is important that people understand that Mexicans can celebrate the importance of history, heritage, and culture on this day with people of different ethnicities and that we all occupy a space in society.”
What is celebrated on May 5?
After defeating the Spanish in 1821 and losing the Mexican-American War in 1848, Mexico turned on France.
French Emperor Napoleon III was seeking to reclaim Mexican territory when he ordered his troops to force Mexican President Benito Juárez and the Mexican government out of Veracruz.
At dawn on May 5, 1862, in Puebla de Los Angeles – a small town in east-central Mexico – about 6,000 French troops clashed with 2,000 Mexican soldiers. When night fell, Mexico emerged victorious.
Days later, Juárez declared May 5 a national holiday.
Vásquez explained that the importance of this victory for Mexico is due to the state the country was in: “economically vulnerable” and “besieged.”
“The fact that these Mexican soldiers and volunteers were able to defeat the French is an amazing victory,” Vasquez added.
The battle also impacted the United States Civil War. By defeating Napoleon III, and his subsequent departure from North America, the American Confederacy was unable to use France as an ally to win the war.
The celebration of Cinco de Mayo in Mexico vs. the United States
Mario Garcia, a Chicanx historian at UC Santa Barbara, says that the war was not celebrated in Mexico at first. The celebration was adopted by Mexican Americans as an act of resistance against the impact of the war between the United States and Mexico. The holiday gained popularity during the Chicano movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
“It became a Chicano holiday for several reasons, first because of its association with the Chicano movement, and because it was discovered that the Mexicans could take on an invader,” Garcia said. “They associate the conflict of the Chicano movement with Cinco de Mayo.”
When the Chicano Movement was in full swing in the 1980s, US companies began marketing Cinco de Mayo, Garcia said.
The marketing began with the breweries and today it has been transformed into offers of any product associated with Mexico. Restaurants have specials and alcoholic drinks to celebrate this day.
Throughout Mexico there is an occasional celebration of Cinco de Mayo, mainly in Puebla, where the battle took place. But in terms of Mexican holidays, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t compare to Independence Day celebrations, Garcia said.
How do Hispanics feel about Cinco de Mayo celebrations?
Aside from marketing, there are several factors that contribute to the popularity of Cinco de Mayo in the United States, Vásquez said.
The fact that it is during spring with ideal weather can influence people to want to participate in this celebration. But, many Hispanics and Chicanx disagree on how they celebrate.
Melissa Lopez, 22, says that Cinco De Mayo “is not a Mexican holiday, but an American one.” Her family is from Tijuana and Ensenada. She thinks that people celebrate Cinco de Mayo because it is a day to celebrate Mexican traditions.
“I feel like Americans don’t like to admit they love Mexican. They love Mexican food, the culture, the drinks, the music, everything, and they just want a day where they can have fun with it,” Lopez said. “Those who celebrate it are also those people who hate what is authentically Mexican the most. It’s just ironic.
Garcia says that he has no problem going out to Mexican restaurants to eat and drink in a celebratory way. But that he sees it as “a knife with both edges,” in terms of commercialization taking meaning away from Cinco de Mayo, but that there are many efforts to educate people about the meaning of this day. Celebrating is fine, as long as you know what this day means and what its impact is today.
“If people understood the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, they might think about how it applies to the Hispanic and Latino population today,” he said.
Vásquez also said that there are misconceptions about the holiday and that they will likely continue. But it is extremely important to learn about Cinco de Mayo, even for Mexican Americans.
“There is a very surbversive element about Cinco de Mayo, and that has to do with anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, self-determination and autonomy of Mexicans. But that message is hidden under all the trumpeting, the tomadera, the decorations, the dance,” Vazquez said. “We need to understand what Cinco de Mayo means to our community, and teach that to younger generations because it’s about strength and loneliness.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
Follow Maria Jimenez Moya on Twitter: @maferjm06
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism