Cinco de Mayo: What Are We Celebrating and Why?


It is Cinco de Mayo, or May 5th. Perhaps you’re aware that something related to Mexico and Mexican history is celebrated today. Many events, parades, street fairs, and parties are held in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is extremely popular in the United States. The holiday celebrates Mexican culture, heritage, and, most importantly, history.


There are many ways of celebrating Mexican culture and heritage on Cinco De Mayo. People usually feast on traditional Mexican food such as guacamole, enchiladas, or flautas. They listen to Mexican music such as cumbias, corridos, and mariachi. Homes, businesses, and schools are decorated in papel picado, or perforated paper, and the Mexican flag.


These are all great ways of celebrating and honoring Mexican culture and heritage, but perhaps we still aren't clear about what exactly Cinco de Mayo is all about.


Let's discuss Cinco de Mayo a bit more.


What exactly is being celebrated on Cinco De Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican culture and heritage. It also commemorates, meaning to celebrate something that already happened, an important date in Mexico’s history. Many people mistakenly believe Cinco de Mayo to be Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually celebrated on September 16. In actuality, Cinco de Mayo is honoring the Mexican army’s defeat of the French army during the French-Mexican War on May 5th, 1862.

Why were Mexico and France at war?

During the Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, Mexico had borrowed money from European countries to fight the American government and army. One of those countries was France. It was understood that Mexico had to pay back the money it had borrowed after the war.


Benito Juarez was Mexico's president at the time. For two years, he stopped paying back the money Mexico had borrowed from France. French Emperor Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to expand French ruling into Mexico. He sent French army men to invade Mexico.


With the United States fighting its own battles during the Civil War, they couldn't defend the Monroe Doctrine. The doctrine, which is a set of beliefs by a political party or religion, did not allow for anymore European settling in the Americas. With the United States too busy to help Mexico, France invaded Mexico in 1861. Thus began the French-Mexican War.


Batalla de Puebla, the Battle of Puebla

On December 17, 1861, the French took over Veracruz. Then they took Campeche on February 27, 1861. Mexico's government and army was weak because of the Mexican-American War. They weren’t in good shape to take on the French. However, the Mexican people quickly organized to increase the odds of beating Napoleon and his army in future battles.


Led by Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexico’s Secretary of War back then, the Mexican army first fought the French invaders on April 28, 1862, at Acultzingo. They were forced to retreat and regroup at the city of Puebla. The Mexican army had limited resources, were outnumbered by the French, and were exhausted. Despite of all of this, the Mexicans defeated the French army on May 5th, or Cinco de Mayo. Unfortunately, the victory was short lived. The French would take over Mexico within a year, but Cinco de Mayo remained a symbol of the unity between the Mexican people and their strength.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Today, Mexico doesn’t make a big fuss over Cinco de Mayo. It is a minor event. Although it is a holiday, it is mostly celebrated in Puebla, the location of the victorious battle. There are celebrations and events, but Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the United States.


That is a good thing because Mexican and Mexican-Americans get to share their culture and traditions with each other and others on Cinco de Mayo. Throughout the U.S., people gather to eat Mexican food while listening to traditional Mexican music.


Perhaps the most important thing about Cinco de Mayo is pride. Because of Cinco de Mayo, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans get the opportunity to show everyone else just how happy and proud they are to be Mexican or of Mexican descent. Just like the battle of Puebla helped the Mexicans feel proud about their victory, Cinco de Mayo helps Mexicans and Mexican-Americans feel proud about who they are.




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