May 5—five of May–Cinco de Mayo—the day Americans heartily celebrate Mexican food, culture, and traditions. People across the country, whether of Mexican heritage or not, embrace the day as an excuse to eat Tex-Mex cuisine, drink Mexican beer, prepare pitchers of margaritas and platters of nachos, and party!
However, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday. It is not Mexico’s Independence Day (Dieciséis de Septiembre, September 16) as many incorrectly think, but rather marks the day the Mexican army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. It is also known as the Battle of Puebla Day and is celebrated in Puebla with a military parade and mock battle.
So why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the United States? As with many other U.S. holidays, it’s all in the marketing. However, Cinco de Mayo initially started in the U.S. because of its historical ties to the Civil War, making it, truly, an American-made holiday.
At the time of the Franco-Mexican War, the US was in the midst of the Civil War. The French desired a presence in Mexico to support the Confederate Army and hopefully regain possession of the land sold to Thomas Jefferson in the famed Louisiana Purchase. With the French defeat at Puebla, the Confederate Army lost the French support and the Union Army was able to advance. “The rest” as they say, “is history.”
Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated in Southern California in 1863 as a show of solidarity with Mexico against French rule. Celebrations continued on a yearly basis giving way to larger celebrations with corporations sponsoring events. By the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo had become commercialized on a wide scale as alcohol and food companies used the celebrated day to promote their products as well as to celebrate Mexican food, culture, and tradition. All giving Americans an excuse to throw a party.
Cinco de Mayo is for celebrating! It is a day to celebrate our Mexican-American friends’ traditions, culture, and food. It is a day to celebrate America’s connection to Cinco de Mayo. It is a day to celebrate diversity. It is a day to celebrate opportunities to promote ethnic consciousness and build community union. By all means, have a fiesta!
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!