Cinco de Mayo: What is the celebration and why is it significant?
Cinco de Mayo is a cultural phenomenon in the United States, and a time to celebrate Mexican culture. However, in addition to a celebration, the holiday also has historical significance.
This year, Cinco de Mayo, which translates from Spanish to the fifth of May, falls on Friday 5 May 2023.
From the origin of the holiday to the different ways it is celebrated, this is everything you need to know about Cinco de Mayo.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
People often mistake Cinco de Mayo for a celebration of Mexican independence, which not correct.
Rather, the holiday celebrates a failed French invasion after a fledgling Mexican state defaulted on debt payments to European governments.
In 1861, Mexico was suffering from financial ruin following years of internal strife. This was exploited by the French President Napoleon III, who thought it would be a good time to try and build an empire in Mexico. Mexico had defaulted on debts with Britain and Spain as well, but those two countries negotiated with the country and withdrew their armed forces.
The French invaded Mexico in late 1861 with well-armed forces and stormed Veracruz, forcing the Mexican government and its forces to retreat into northern Mexico.
Confident of further victories, French forces focused their attention on the city Puebla de Los Angeles. Anticipating the attack, Mexican President Benito Juárez brought together a group of 2,000 men to fight back, many of who were indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry.
When the French finally attacked, on 5 May 1862, the battle lasted from daybreak to early evening. The French ended up retreating after losing almost 500 soldiers, while the Mexican army lost fewer than 100.
Was the battle significant?
Strategically, not really. The battle represented more of a symbolic victory for the Mexican forces and added to the resistance. French forces didn’t leave until 1867, after years of fighting.
Mexicans were helped in part by the end of the Civil War, when the US was able to send its own troops to help out its besieged neighbour.
However, that hasn’t hindered the holiday’s popularity, as it has since transformed into a day dedicated to celebeating Mexican culture and heritage.
Does all of Mexico celebrate Cinco de Mayo?
People in Puebla celebrate, as that’s where the unlikely victory occurred, but the festivities aren’t nationwide. Cinco de Mayo isn’t a federal holiday so the day is just like any other day for most people in Mexico.
Why is it celebrated in the United States?
The holiday is widely seen as a celebration of Mexican cultural heritage for America’s large Mexican-American population.
Latino activists raised awareness for the holiday in the 1960s. In large part, those early holidays in the US were a forum to celebrate the fact that a group of indigenous people were able to successfully hold back French forces.
The holiday has taken off in the US since then, with people all over the country now fond of celebrating Cinco de Mayo with parades, parties, mariachi music, and traditional Mexican foods.
However, in recent years, efforts have been made to steer the holiday away from consumerism, with major cities now dedicating the day to celebrating the traditions and history of Puebla.
“It seems that these efforts are direct responses to the consumerism surrounding Cinco de Mayo, and the commercialisation of Latino culture in the United States,” Dr Jessica Lavariega Monforti, the vice provost at California State University, Channel Islands, told The New York Times.
As for Mexican Independence Day, that holiday falls on 16 September.