Many cities continue to honor Cinco de Mayo through festivals.
Many cities continue to honor Cinco de Mayo through festivals. S Pakhrin/Wikimedia Commons

Every year on May 5, people across the United States come together to commemorate the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, which translates to "May 5th" in Spanish. However, even some Latinos in the U.S. may be unaware that the history of Cinco de Mayo is marked more by violence than by traditional dances or beer.

On Cinco de Mayo, Mexico commemorates its victory over France in the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5th, 1862. No, Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican Independence Day, which actually occurred on September 16, 1810, when Mexicans ended Spanish rule.

Today, the day is commemorated in many regions of Mexico and in every corner of the U.S. by the Chicano community, who throw parties with parrilladas, folklore, fajitas, mole, and every piece of culture that makes Mexicans proud.

What are exactly the origins of Cinco de Mayo, and how is it celebrated in the U.S.? Here are some short explanations to delve into this Mexican tradition.

Cinco de Mayo origins

General Zaragoza, who led the victory in the Battle of
General Zaragoza, who led the victory in the Battle of Puebla, was born in Goliad, Texas. AthenaGabo/Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of 1861, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France had invaded Mexico. However, it lasted less than a year: within the first six months, the former two had withdrawn their forces.

To the north of the border, the United States has been embroiled in the Civil War. So, taking advantage of the chaos, France decided to invade Mexico again, which had been left ravaged by the war in the late 1850s.

In April 1862, French forces advanced towards the city of Puebla, located approximately 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Mexico City. Despite being outnumbered, a small army led by Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the larger French contingent.

The victory at the Battle of Puebla was a significant morale boost for Mexico, demonstrating their resilience against foreign intervention. While the French would later occupy Mexico City and establish a puppet regime, the legacy of the Battle of Puebla lives on, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo in the U.S

The U.S. was embroiled in the Civil War, when the
The U.S. was embroiled in the Civil War, when the French invaded Mexico. S Pakhrin/Wikimedia Commons

Remember General Zaragoza, who led the victory? He was actually born in what is now Goliad, in Texas, which has been the official city for Cinco de Mayo celebrations for over two decades.

The Cinco de Mayo holiday started to gain popularity in the 1960s, as Mexican-American, or Chicano, activists embraced it as a means to foster pride within the Mexican-American community.

Today, the majority of Americans commemorate Cinco de Mayo by indulging in a plethora of tacos, tequila, and beer. Interestingly, in recent years, Cinco de Mayo beer sales have surpassed those of both St. Patrick's Day and the Super Bowl, according to an article by National Geographic.

However, numerous communities continue to honor the holiday through festivals, parades, and various events that celebrate the richness of Mexican-American culture and heritage.

Among the most popular festivals, the one in Chicago stands out with a party at Douglas Park that attracts 200,000 people, according to a CNN report. The festivals in Denver, Portland, Oregon, and St. Paul, Minnesota, are also very popular.

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