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Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica Online

Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday celebrating the Mexican Army's implausible victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. This holiday should not be confused with Mexico's Independance Day (Also known as "El Grito de la Independencia") celebrated on September 15th.

Cinco de Mayo actually has a very limited significance overall in Mexico, but is often observed in other countries such as the United States to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride.

In 1861 the president of Mexico, Benito Juarez decided to no longer pay interest on the debts that Mexico owed to other countries. He wanted Mexico to be a completely independent country that did not rely on the financial help of other others. Because the debts were not being paid, France decided to send troops to force the takeover of the entire country of Mexico. At the beginning it looked like France was succeeding in a hostile takeover of the country, but on May 5th 1862 in the city of Puebla, Mexican troops defeated an attack by the MUCH larger French army. While this attack was significant, it only delayed the French troops, who later occupied Mexico and placed a French Emperor at the head of the Mexican government in 1864. Under pressure from the United States government, the French finally retreated from Mexico in 1866.

Cinco de Mayo
Photo courtesy of the Nevada Observer

According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 is historically important for at least two reasons:

  1.  Although substantially outnumbered, the Mexican army conquered a much better equipped, and much better trained French army. The French army had not lost a battle in over 50 years at that point in time.
  2. It was also significant because since the Battle of Puebla, no country in the Americas has been invaded by an army from another continent.
    (Wikipedia, article entitled "Cinco de Mayo" 4-21-2010)

This video humorously illustrates the history of this holiday and why Cinco de Mayo should be important to both Mexicans and Americans:

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally, and most enthusiastically in the city of Puebla. The town celebrates with local military parades, mariachi bands, marching bands, and authentic foods served from street stalls such as Mole Poblano, a thick spicy sauce that is made from blending over 40 spices and served on chicken or turkey with rice.

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo celebrations started in California in the 1860's in support of the Mexican people after being invaded by France. It has become a very significant holiday in America to celebrate Mexican culture, heritage, food, & music.

Cinco de Mayo
Photo courtesy of El Civics for ESL Students

According to Jose Alamillo, professor of ethnic studies at Washington Stave University, Cinco de Mayo is becoming more popular than St. Patrick's Day and the reason is in part because of the "Good Neighbor" policy", a U.S. government effort from the 1950's & 1960's to reach out to neighboring countries. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo was a way to build a bridge between the two cultures. The holiday really grew in popularity in the 1960's "as a way to built pride among Mexican-Americans." (From: Lovgren, Stefan "Cinco de Mayo, From Mexican Fiesta,to Popular U.S. Holiday." National Geographic News online May 5th, 2006.


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