Cinco de Mayo
Also known as
Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla
annually on May 5th
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, during the Franco-Mexican War. The day is a minor, regional holiday in Mexico, being mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla where the city of Puebla is the capital. Military parades, speeches, and reenactments of the battle are held there. It is also celebrated in Veracruz and Mexico City, but in many other places of Mexico, May 5th is no different than any other day.
It is more widely celebrated in the United States, where it commemorates the battle, and celebrates Mexican culture and heritage. It is most celebrated in areas with large Mexican-American populations. The day began gaining popularity in the 1940s, during the beginnings of the Chicano movement. Mexican immigrants used the day to show their pride in their Mexican heritage. Awareness of the holiday was further raised in the 1960s by Chicano activists. Today it is celebrated by many in the country, regardless of their ethnic background. Parades, parties, and festivals are part of the day. These events usually include mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional Mexican foods. The largest festivals in the country are held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
Some have been critical of the day, saying it didn't have more widespread demographic appeal until it began being linked to Mexican alcoholic drinks. Some have also been critical of the day by saying it sometimes perpetuates negative stereotypes of Mexican people. The day has sometimes also been confused with Mexican Independence Day, which commemorates the call to arms against the Spanish, that took place on Sept 16, 1810. That day began being celebrated years before Cinco de Mayo.
The story of the Battle of Puebla deals with Mexico's war with France. In 1861, Benito Juárez became president of Mexico, at a time when the country was in trouble economically. They had defaulted on debts to France, Britain, and Spain, and those countries sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, in an effort to retrieve their money. Britain and Spain worked out an agreement and withdrew. But France stayed, in an effort to seize back their money, and to create a French Empire in Mexican territory. France also wanted to limit the influence of the United States in the region. Although, during this time, the United States was preoccupied with the Civil War, giving France more of an opportunity to do as it pleased.
In late 1861, French forces landed at Veracruz and put Juárez and his government on the run. 6,000 French troops, under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, planned an attack at Puebla de Los Ángeles, a town 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, and were optimistic about its outcome. Juárez was stationed just north of there and sent 2,000 (by some accounts 4,000) men to Puebla. Poorly supplied and outnumbered, they were led by General Ignacio Zaragoza. They fortified the town and got ready for French.
On May 5, 1862, the French attacked the town, and the battle lasted from morning until night. They lost between 500 to 1,000 soldiers, while Mexico lost less than 100. After the battle ended, the French retreated to the Gulf Coast. It was not a strategic win for Mexico but was a symbolic victory and morale booster. General Zaragoza died a few months later, and the town was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza. France's leader, Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor of Mexico in 1864. He was executed by Juárez's forces in 1867. France withdrew from Mexico the same year.
How to Observe
One way to celebrate the day is to eat traditional Mexican foods, or foods associated with Mexico, such as tacos, burritos, sopes, enchiladas, grilled corn, chips with salsa verde or guacamole, or mole poblano, which is an important food in Puebla. You could wash it all down with some margaritas. Mexican mariachi music or other Mexican music could be listened to, or you could do some Mexican folk dancing. Food, music, and dancing will likely be a part of any Cinco de Mayo festival or event, so it may be best to attend one! You could attend Los Angeles's Festival de Fiesta Broadway, the largest Cinco de Mayo event in the world (note: this Cinco de Mayo celebration is held in late April). Chicago and Houston are also known for large events. San Diego has various events, including a battle reenactment. The Cinco de Mayo festival in Chandler, Arizona, is known for its Chihuahua parades, races, and pageants. There are many smaller events taking place in cities and towns across the United States. Check to see what is taking place near where you live. In Puebla, there is a museum dedicated to the battle, and the battlefield is a park. A reenactment, replete with rifle and cannon shots, takes place in Puebla on the day, and it ends with a sword fight between the Mexican and French generals. No matter how you celebrate the day, make sure you are being culturally sensitive if you are not of Mexican or Mexican-American descent.