Over the past few decades since the 1960s, the fifth of May, or Cinco de Mayo, has evolved to be a day of celebration of Mexican culture in the United States, celebrated by people of all races and ethnicities. This date is marked by parties with traditional Mexican food and drinks, such as tacos and sangria, and festive music, but many people do not know the significance behind the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
The history of Cinco de Mayo traces all the way back to 1862, beginning with the surprising Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. In 1861, Napoleon III of France sought to extend France’s influence to Mexico in hopes of obtaining access to all Latin American markets. At first, he disguised France’s presence in Mexico as a friendly alliance focused on promoting free trade, but in reality, Napoleon III had intentions to conquer Mexico and regain France’s global domination. This became known as the Second French intervention in Mexico. As European forces captured land in Mexico, the Mexicans fought back despite being significantly underpowered. Cities were surrendering left and right, but on the fifth of May in 1862, Mexican forces, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, unexpectedly defeated the French army and protected the city of Puebla. However, France continued to occupy Mexico up until 1867 when the United States stepped in after the American Civil War. Although this victory was short lived, Cinco de Mayo is still celebrated to honor the brave soldiers who won at the Battle of Puebla.
There are many misconceptions surrounding Cinco de Mayo. The biggest confusion shared by many people is that it this date marks Mexican Independence Day. This is completely untrue; Mexico’s day of independence is September 16th, originating in 1810 when Father Miguel Hidalgo called for an uprising against Spanish rule, sparking the Mexican War for Independence. Another misunderstanding about Cinco de Mayo is its significance in Mexican culture. Despite its popularity in the United States, this holiday is quite meaningless in most parts of Mexico, with only some cities such as Puebla celebrating it. The Mexican Day of Independence, on the other hand, is acknowledged across the nation.
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is viewed as a commemoration of Mexican culture and is celebrated by people in all parts of the country, particularly in areas where many Mexican-Americans lives. Cinco de Mayo was first introduced to the American people in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Era. As Mexican-American activists pushed for equality, they used this holiday as an example of their pride for their heritage. Decades later, beer companies like Corona and Modelo incorporated Cinco de Mayo in their ad campaigns to attract Latino customers. The advertisements were incredibly popular among all Americans, making Cinco de Mayo a golden goose for alcohol companies, Mexican restaurants, and costume stores. To demonstrate how monstrously profitable this holiday is in the US, in 2013, Americans spent more on beer for Cinco de Mayo than for the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Cinco de Mayo is a great way to express appreciation for Mexican culture and spend time with friends and family. Have fun celebrating, RHS!
Graphic: Sofia Lee