Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into another excuse to excessively drink in the States, just like St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras. The holiday has also become a lucrative business opportunity: restaurant management system CAKE recorded that when Cinco de Mayo fell on a Thursday in 2016, revenue rose by 9 percent and transactions by 13 percent from the previous Thursday.
In midst of the partying, the holiday has unfortunately lost its significance and meaning. According to National Today, around two in five respondents mistakenly believed May 5 to be Mexico’s independence day. However, Mexican Independence Day is September 16 and was established around 50 years before Cinco de Mayo. Only 1 in 10 respondents were able to identify the festival’s true origins, which is the anniversary of Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla.
In late 1861, English, Spanish, and French forces invaded Mexico when the country declared an interim moratorium during its economic turmoil. Despite the fact that England and Spain withdrew by April 1862 after debt negotiations, French troops remained in order to take advantage of Mexico’s financial vulnerability to institute a monarchy. On May 5, 1862, two thousand poorly equipped Mexican soldiers defeated the well-armed French troops at the Battle of Puebla. In spite of their inauspicious conditions, the Mexican troops suffered a loss of fewer than 100, while the French lost nearly 500.
This miraculous victory stood as a symbol of Mexico’s resistance to foreign domination and continued to motivate the Mexican troops to push the French out of their homeland (which they accomplished after 5 more years of fighting). The city, renamed Puebla de Zaragoza after the general who led the triumphant Mexican forces, is home to a commemorative museum and the battlefield was made into a park. Although Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla de Zaragoza with parades, speeches, and reenactments, the holiday is not observed throughout the rest of the country and is not recognized as a federal holiday. For most Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo is considered another normal day.
In America, the day is seen as a celebration of Mexican heritage for the growing Hispanic community. It was promoted by Latino activists and Mexican immigrants in the 1960s to stimulate pride in their culture. Critics claim that the celebration only gained popularity after it was linked to the promotion of Mexican alcoholic beverages, implying negative stereotypes of Mexicans and encouraging intemperance, like many other American holidays. Nonetheless, Cinco de Mayo is still honored today through parades, parties, mariachi, and Mexican foods (and student-run parties thrown in Spanish classes to avoid learning).
Graphics: Maraea Garcia