Despite the popular misconception in the United States, Cinco de Mayo does not mention when Mexico gained its independence from Spain. (This was celebrated on September 16.)

This is not even a big event in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo honors the Battle of Puebla, when significantly superior Mexican forces repulsed the troops of French Emperor Napoleon III in 1862 during the Second Franco-Mexican War.

How did the clash south of the border turn into such a huge party day in the United States? Read on to find out.

What is the Cinco de Mayo?

Mexico declared its independence in 1821. Until 1861, however, the country with financial difficulties did not pay its debts to several European countries. The French Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, decided to use his outstanding debt as a claim to invade and expand his overseas empire.

Portrait of Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon Bonaparte) by the artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

DEA / G. Dougli Orti / De Agostini via Getty Images

Napoleon’s troops storm Veracruz and banish Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first local president, into exile. Encouraged by their early victory, French forces under General Charles de Lorenz attacked Puebla de Los Angeles, about 80 miles outside Mexico City, on May 5, 1862.

Juarez sent a ragged army of Mexicans and Zapotec Indians to defend the city under the banner of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The battle lasted from dawn to sunset, and although they were outnumbered by almost 2 to 1, Zaragoza’s troops repulsed Lorenzo’s troops.

The battle was not a decisive victory – in fact, the French recaptured Puebla a year later – but many Mexicans saw it as a symbol of breaking the shackles of colonialism and oppression. Four days later, on May 9, 1862, President Juarez declared the Cinco de Mayo a national holiday.

Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

The Mexican Emperor Maximilian was executed in 1867.


French troops withdrew completely from Mexico in 1867, and Maximilian I, the Austrian Archduke Napoleon, appointed emperor of the country, was eventually captured and executed.

In honor of the Mexican victory, Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza, and Cinco de Mayo was declared a national holiday.

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the United States?

As the French and Mexicans fought, the United States was embroiled in the American Civil War. Napoleon III joined the Confederacy and planned to supply the southern states with weapons in exchange for cotton that had been blocked by the Union.

Puebla’s loss and Napoleon’s resources in Mexico helped thwart his strategy to continue north and strengthen the Confederacy.

Americans of Mexican descent overwhelmingly supported the Union, according to David E. Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for Latin American Health and Culture Studies at UCLA School of Medicine. They voted for Abraham Lincoln, and many of them served in the Union’s army, navy, and cavalry.

Statute of Ignacio Zaragoza

Monument to Ignacio Zaragoza, hero of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico.

DeAgostini / Getty Images

News of the decisive victory in Puebla “has led Latinos in California, Nevada and Oregon to redouble their efforts to defend freedom, equality and democracy in both the United States and Mexico,” Hayes-Bautista told CNET.

For his book El Cinco de Mayo: American traditionhe traced periodicals showing that the Cinco de Mayo celebrations were taking place in Los Angeles and other parts of the West almost as soon as the battle of Puebla ended.

“Every Cinco de Mayo, Latinos marched through the streets of cities and mining camps to inform the world of their position on the US Civil War and the French intervention in Mexico,” Hayes-Bautista said.

By 1910, Mexican-American veterans of the American Civil War were dying out and a new wave of immigration came to California amid the Mexican Revolution.

Two young men from Chicano are riding on the hood of a car

Two men ride on the hood of a car during a march by the Chicano National Moratorium Committee in Los Angeles in 1970.

David Fenton / Getty Images

“These newcomers noticed the Cinco de Mayo celebrations here in California and started joining them,” Hayes-Bautista said. But they redirected the celebrations with songs, music and images of the Mexican revolution, he said.

In the 1960s, leaders of the Chicano movement redirected the Cinco de Mayo as a symbol of cultural pride and resilience, while advocating for agricultural workers’ rights, educational and economic opportunities, and other social and political causes.

“The story of David against Goliath adequately reflects the struggle for civil rights,” said Kirby Farah, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California. wrote for The Conversation.

The commercialization of the Cinco de Mayo

For generations, Cinco de Mayo was not widely known in the United States outside of the immigrant communities of Mexico and Central America. Then, in the 1980s, as Latinos became a major economic power in the country, breweries saw an opportunity: In 1989, the Gambrinus Group, Texas importers of Corona and Negra Modelo, launched an advertising campaign promoting Mexican Americans to drink Mexican beer on the holiday.

Marketing was soon expanded to reach Americans of all backgrounds, and in 1993, Gambrinus Marketing Director Ron Christeson told Modern Brewery Age that the Cinco de Mayo was “becoming one of the biggest promotions in the beer industry.”

It was during this era that Hayes-Bautista told CNET that Cinco de Mayo “became heavily commercialized in Drinko de Mayo.”

Americans spent more than $ 600 million on beer for Cinco de Mayo in 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. That’s more than they did during the Super Bowl, July 4 or St. Patrick’s Day that year.

“The crown is the first thing that comes to mind when customers think of Cinco de Mayo,” marketing director of Gambrinus Said Don Mann in 2006

Summer Altice and Carmen Electra

Celebrities Summer Altice and Carmen Electra during the Cinco de Mayo at Sauza Tequila in Hollywood in 2005.

Chris Weeks / WireImage

This year, Corona is sponsoring the Corona de Cinco campaign. on his website which included old El Paso recipes and a chance to win Uber gift cards for $ 25.

The Drizly Alcohol Delivery app launches tequila on its homepage, encouraging customers to “make your Cinco juicy” with tequila and mezcal from the top shelf. (Americans also consumed approximately 8.7 million gallons of tequila on May 5, Loop Insights is reported.)

How to celebrate Cinco de Mayo now

Hayes-Bautista would like to transfer Cinco de Mayo from alcohol companies and restaurant chains to the hands of the community.

“The Fiesta is good, but we have to remember why we celebrate,” he told CNET. “While the Fourth of July was heavily commercialized, underneath it all we remember that the day has something to do with the founding of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.

Gustavo Rivas-Solis is the Vice President of Communications Enroute and represented Mexican tourism industry for more than 20 years.

Cinco de Mayo “flew to the United States as a way for the minority to show their pride – like St. Patrick’s Day,” he told CNET. “And like St. Patrick’s Day, it started to be promoted by marketing companies. I guess they did a good job.”

Mexican dancers in the White House for Cinco de Mayo

Mexican dancers in the Rose Garden of the White House for the celebration of the Cinco de Mayo on May 5, 2010

Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images

Rivas-Solis said he believed there was nothing wrong with embracing the fun of the day, as long as it “comes from the heart and is not just a joke.”

“Mexicans love to party,” he said. “There’s a way to make the day more cultural and political, but we always like to celebrate.”

He invites Americans who want to honor the Battle of Cinco de Mayo to learn about its origins and other aspects of Mexican culture.

“If you’re going to drink tequila, learn about it centuries of culture behind it, learn about Jalisco. If you’re going to wear a sombrero, find out where it comes from. ”

Restoration of the Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico

Reconstruction of the 2001 battle of May 5, 1862 between the French and the Mexicans in Puebla.

Susanna Gonzalez / Newsmakers

Rivas-Solis also offers to visit Mexico and explore its history and culture first hand.

“San Miguel de Allende is the cradle of Mexican independence and has an incredible celebration of the Day of the Dead,” Rivas-Solis said. “In Mexico City, you have Chapultepec Castle, built by Emperor Maximilian.

Mall blanched with chicken

Mole poblano was invented in Puebla.

Eye Ubiquitous / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Puebla itself is beautiful, he added, with many colonial sites still preserved. And of course, Puebla still honors the Cinco de Mayo – with historical restorations, mariachi music and a festival dedicated to the mall poblano, spicy chili and chocolate sauce, which has become synonymous with the region.

“Here’s the mole,” Rivas-Solis said. “The gastronomy is amazing. And there are these amazing fields of flowers – the flowers you see used on the Day of the Dead come from Puebla.”

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