Mexican History 


Why Cinco de Mayo is more than guacamole and tortilla chips


Cinco de Mayo it’s everyone’s favorite Mexican holiday in the United States, a chance to listen to mariachi music, grab some chips and salsa and maybe even speak some Spanish with friends. But what’s it all about?

If you know a little Spanish, you may understand that “Cinco de Mayo” is May fifth, so it must be a special date in history, but why do Mexicans celebrate that particular day?

Here are 5 facts you need to know about 5 de mayo:




1.-  It’s not Mexico’s Independence Day

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16th. What does it really mean? It is a Mexican holiday which celebrates the victory over French forces on May 5th, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla.



Independence day. Photo by CNN

 2.- The Battle of Puebla occurred during the French intervention in Mexico

In late 1861 and early 1862, British, French, and Spanish forces arrived in Mexico with the goal of recovering loans made to the Mexican government. While a blatant violation of the US Monroe Doctrine, the United States was powerless to intervene as it was embroiled in its own Civil War. Shortly after landing in Mexico, it became apparent to the British and Spanish that the French intended to conquer the country rather than simply collect on debts owed. As a result, both nations withdrew, leaving the French to proceed on their own.




3.- The holiday celebrates an unexpected victory

The holiday actually celebrates the Mexican victory over the French, despite being smaller and ill-equipped.

  • The Mexican army was led by General Ignacio Zaragoza and had approx. 4,500 men.
  • The French army was led by Major General Charles de Lorencez and had 6,040 men.

France was ruled by Emperor Napoleón III,  who was known as the invincible in Europe, who used The French Foreign Legion, (exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces) for war and brought reinforcements from Europe and Africa.

Mexico was ruled by President Benito Juarez, who restored the Republic, and used liberal measures to modernize the country. The main forces of the Mexican army came from the state of Oaxaca and brought civil reinforcements from Indians of the region of Puebla.



General Ignacio Zaragoza and Major General Charles de Lorencez


4.- The French wanted to seize Mexico to undermine the government of Lincoln

Napoleon III of France was the instigator of the Second French Intervention in Mexico, justifying military action alleging a broad foreign policy committed to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would be a great opportunity to expand free trade, ensuring European access to major markets and avoid the monopoly of the United States.



5.- Cinco de Mayo is celebrated differently in the United States and in Mexico

In Mexico, the day is observed with political speeches, battle reenactments and many of the actual celebration and battle re-enactment take place in the state of Puebla. Otherwise, the world’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration takes place in Los Angeles, and cities like New York City, Denver, and Houston also throw large parties in honor of the day. Mexican Americans often see the day as a source of pride; one way they can honor their ethnicity is to celebrate this day.




Now that you know a little bit more about this Mexican celebration, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have fun with a charro hat and party all year long like a Mexican, but now you have a great story to tell and a proud reason to celebrate!


How do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo in your hometown?