Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. In fact, May 5th is the anniversary of the Victory at the Battle of Puebla. The day represents the resilience of the people and is a time for many Americans to celebrate their Hispanic heritage. Although it is a small day in Mexico, the United States has embraced Cinco de Mayo as a day for huge celebrations.
Battle of Puebla
In the 19th Century, Mexico was in heavy debt. After negotiations, England and Spain decided to withdraw their troops. However, President of France Napoleon III saw an opportunity to set up the French colony in Mexico, using the Mexican debt as an excuse to invade. Benito Juárez was the newly elected President of Mexico who was in charge of rebuilding and restoring Mexico after the devastation of war.
In 1861, the well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz. French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez led over 6000 troops to invade central-east Mexico, mainly Puebla de Los Angeles. Taken by surprise, only 2000 of Juárez’s men were prepared to fight in very poor conditions. Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexico miraculously won on May 5th, 1862. Over 400 French soldiers were killed, while Mexico suffered less than 100 casualties. Though this victory was not counted as a strategic win for Mexico, it symbolized their undying strength. After the American government’s pressure to end the war, France finally withdrew their troops five years later. Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of the general who led them to victory.
How Did Cinco de Mayo Get Popular in the United States?
During the Battle of Puebla, Latinos in California heard about the wars and decided to raise money for Mexican troops. From forming a patriotic network to donating resources, local residents would gather together to fight for freedom and democracy in Mexico.
During the 1940’s, the Chicano Movement started to increase in popularity and brought Cinco de Mayo to light. The early celebrations would bring in war heroes to celebrate their resilience and their perseverance, while other celebrations included reenactments of the war itself. People identified with the victory of Puebla and marked the occasions with parades, bands, and music. Despite the holiday not being so popular in Mexico, the United States started to celebrate the holiday more prominently in the 50s.
In the 1980s, many alcohol and beer companies struggled to reach the Hispanic population. Marketers decided to promote their company as one that celebrates the Hispanic population through Cinco de Mayo. This explains why Cinco de Mayo now has a reputation for being an alcohol-fuelled party.
Although Mexico does not really celebrate the win at Puebla, the town where the war was fought still host reenactments of the war. In America, they continue to have parties and organize parades filled with live music in cities with large Latino populations. Cinco de Mayo parties are filled with Mexican delicacies and prominently display the colors of the Mexican flag. From LA to Chicago to Houston, Cinco de Mayo is remembered as a day filled with happiness and to face our challenges head-on.
What is your favorite Cinco de Mayo tradition?