One of the biggest Mexican celebrations of Mexican heritage and traditions in the United States is celebrated today, on May 5th and it is even commonly referred to in Spanish, as Cinco de Mayo. However, in Mexico, this day is not largely celebrated, parades and events are mostly limited to the state of Puebla, and it is not considered a federal holiday. So, what is Cinco de Mayo and where does this confusion come from? In today’s blog, we would like to shed some light on this holiday that celebrates the Mexican victory over France´s invasion in 1862, officially known as Día de la Batalla de Puebla, or Battle of Puebla Day.
A popular misconception for people outside of Mexico is that May 5th, or Cinco de Mayo, is the celebration of Mexican Independence Day. Instead, Mexican Independence day is observed on September 16th (and the way Mexicans celebrate this day is a whole other story), the day of its anniversary after Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla made his call to arms that started a war for Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1810.
What May 5th commemorates is the date of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in May 5, 1862, which is why it is also known as Battle of Puebla Day. In 1861 Mexico was in financial ruin and bankruptcy after years of internal and external wars. This led President Benito Juarez—who was from Oaxaca, and indigenous Zapotec—to decree an extension of debt payments to European countries. As a response, Britain, Spain, and France sent naval forces to Veracruz to claim their debt. Britain and Spain withdrew their forces after negotiation but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to take advantage of Mexico’s financial situation and attempted to create a French Colony in Mexico.
On May 5th day, France began an attack from the north side of the state of Puebla and sent a large army of 6,000 French troops. In contrast, the Mexican army was composed of less than 5,000 men, some being farmers and/or indigenous and armed only with spear-like weapons and machetes. However, Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza led the outnumbered Mexican army to success against the heavily armed French. The Battle of Puebla was a short one: it lasted from dawn to sundown. However, this victory represented a symbolic win for Mexico and it became a significant drive for what became the French-Mexican War (1861-1867). The end of this war came in part with military support and pressure from the United States, and ended with the retreat of the French forces and capture and execution of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian.
While a relatively minor holiday in Mexico that is not celebrated, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations, and one major holiday. In the 1960s, the Chicano movement adopted this date as a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture as well as a metaphor for the victory of indigenous oppression over powerful countries. Later, in the 80s this holiday became commercialized and more and more people began celebrating it, not knowing what it represented or the history of dignity and triumph that surrounds this day.
Today in the United States, Cinco de Mayo can be controversial with some arguing that not knowing what this holiday represents reduces Mexican culture to a day for drinking margaritas. Nonetheless, it is a large and proud display of Mexican heritage by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike. A day that is filled with parades, parties, and other celebrations and where the streets are a big show of typical dances and dresses. Houses are also filled with friends and family for Fiestas Mexicanas, Mexican Parties, which, as a Mexican owned company we encourage you to support Mexican celebrations and even be a part of them; Mexican fiestas are surely fun and everyone is always invited!
So, what do you think? Was this something that you knew before? What were your thoughts about Cinco de Mayo before this article? We would love to hear form you!
Also, we have everything you need for a Mexican Fiesta right here.