Why is it that we, in the United States, celebrate Cinco de Mayo so widely? To answer the question appropriately, we need to take a look back at why this holiday is celebrated at all. Cinco de Mayo is about more than margaritas, carnitas, and mole pablano, after all.
The common misconception that many of us have is that Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day. However, this isn't so. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo, rather, is really a Mexican-American holiday, which is more widely celebrated in the United States than it is in Mexico. As with most international holidays, like St. Patrick's Day, this particular holiday has been commercialized across the United States, since its adoption several decades ago.
The roots of Cinco de Mayo spread back to the American Civil War, in 1862. The French presence in Puebla de Los Angeles, led to the Battle of Puebla. The French, gaining a toehold in Mexico, allowed them to offer support for the Confederate Army. While the defeat of the French troops at the Battle of Puebla was not a decisive victory, it was a turning point for the American Civil War, staving off French support.
The Departure of Maxamilian
Credit: The Art Archive/Corbis
In 1863, the Battle of Puebla was celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in Southern California, as a show of solidarity with Mexico against French rule. It was, again, celebrated annually and, by the 1930s, evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and identity. By the 1950s and 60s, it had become a bi-national celebration of Mexican-American culture.
It wasn't until the 1980s, though, that commercialization of the holiday began on a wide scale. Now, Cinco de Mayo is promoted across the United States as the day we celebrate Mexican food, culture, traditions, and margaritas. For those without a tie to Mexican heritage, it is a day to celebrate for the sake of celebration.
In Mexico, though, the holiday is marked very differently. While it is observed, the celebratory atmosphere is quite different. Parades are held, recreations of the Battle of Puebla take place, and there are other festivities. It is not a federal holiday, though, so the bulk of offices, banks and stores stay open.
The Execution of Maxamilian
Captured by Juarez's troops in 1867, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, leader of the French forces, is executed by Mexico. Credit: Corbis
How can you celebrate?
If you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, maybe you'll try out some of our traditional Mexican recipes? These are handed down from grandparents to parents to children by our own staff.