Cinco de Mayo

May 5—known as Cinco de Mayo, especially among Mexican Americans—is a commemoration of the 1862 victory of the Mexican army over France at the Battle of Puebla. In the United States, particularly in areas with large Mexican American populations, Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage. Cinco de Mayo traditions include parades and street fiestas, performances by mariachi bands and Mexican folk dancers, traditional foods and beverages, and more.

In the 1860s, Mexico was facing financial difficulties and defaulted on debts to several European governments. France, Britain, and Spain responded by sending naval forces to Veracruz to demand payment. Britain and Spain reached settlements with Mexico, but France, then ruled by Napoleon III, invaded Mexico in an attempt to gain Mexican territory. Though vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied, the Mexican army defeated a French force at Puebla de Los Angeles, losing fewer than 100 soldiers. The victory inspired a great deal of patriotism throughout the country. Some historians believe the outcome of this battle in Mexico even affected the course of the American Civil War, then raging north of the Mexican border.

Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated in the United States than in Mexico, thanks in part to Chicano activists who popularized the holiday in the 1960s. Some of the largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. Cinco de Mayo is sometimes confused with the celebration of Mexican independence, which is commemorated on September 16 (Diez y Seis de Septiembre) and which was declared more than half a century before the Battle of Puebla.

Related Links

  • Cinco de Mayo
    From, a brief history on the origins of Cinco de Mayo.
  • Cinco de Mayo
    This article includes historical background as well as links to modern-day celebrations of Cinco de Mayo.
  • The Significance of “Cinco de Mayo”
    This essay explains the cultural significance as well as background of the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

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