Cinco de Mayo is, for many Americans, that day for enjoying Mexican food a few margaritas or Coronas. Still, if you ask around, you´ll notice that not very many people know what 5 de Mayo celebrates.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
I can begin by telling you that it is not Mexico’s Independence Day, that holiday is actually on September 16. Cinco de Mayo is the “Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla,” a Mexican military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III.
In 1861 Mexico declared a temporary suspension on the payment of foreign debts, so the British, Spanish, and French troops invaded the country. By April 1862, the English and Spanish Crowns had withdrawn from Mexican territory. Still, the French, attempting to establish a monarchy under Maximilian of Austria, was trying to gain control of the cotton trade in the U.S. by helping the south, which was a conflict with the north.
On May 5, 1862, a very poorly armed force of mestizo soldiers under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French troops at the Battle of Puebla (a city southeast of Mexico City). Although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years, the victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. After such triumph, in honor of the great general, the city was later renamed Puebla de Zaragoza, where you can find a fantastic museum devoted to the battle, and the battlefield itself is maintained as a park.
Where does Cinco de Mayo originate?
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the state of Puebla with parades, speeches, and reenactments of the 1862 battle… or used to be before the pandemic. This day is not very noticed in most of the rest of the country.
Why is this day celebrated in the U.S?
In 1942, the United States signed a “Farm Labor Agreement” with Mexico, allowing the importation of contract laborers. These Mexican men and women brought with them certain traditions, and one of them was the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, becoming amongst Mexican immigrants a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage.
Initially, this celebration was focalized in particular communities in California, then expanding to other areas. As it happens with everything, the tradition permeated in the cities. People began to adopt the celebration, but it gained popularity in the 1980s when beer companies, capitalized on the festive nature of the day and began to promote it. It grew in popularity and evolved into a celebration of our Mexican culture and heritage, first in areas with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, Tucson, San Jose, New York. Still, later on, it moved to cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, or Saint Paul.
On June 7, 2005, the United States Congress issued a resolution, calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Many school districts hold events to educate students about its historical significance and individual activities and celebrations to highlight Mexican heritage, particularly its music, dancing, and regional outfits.
Today, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an American holiday than a Mexican one, and you know what? We feel delighted and honored with it! Yes, indeed. You see, we are very proud of who we are, very proud of our history, our music, our colors, our flavors, our language.
Let me assure you something about us, the Mexicans. We are family-oriented, decent, hard-working people. Sure, we are not perfect, but we are not all “bad hombres” like some would like you to believe, and by the way, we don´t speak “Mexican” but Spanish.
This 5 de Mayo turn on Youtube and watch some Mexican folk dance festival and listen to some mariachi music, even if you don’t speak Spanish since Mexican music doesn’t necessarily have to be understood to feel it!
Enjoy Mexican food, drink some Mexican beer, some tequilas or margaritas, or whatever you like best. Please, take some time to reflect on the many meaningful accomplishments of the Mexican people and how the Mexican-American people have contributed significantly to making the United States the country that it is today.
Salud… Happy Cinco de Mayo!!!
José E. Urioste Palomeque
For The Yucatan Times / Times Media Mexico
Merida Yucatán México
May 5 2020
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