Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrated on the fifth of May every year. It is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Despite popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexico’s independence day, even though that’s what it is widely known for. Mexico’s independence day is celebrated on September 16th every year, months after Cinco de Mayo. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla (where the battle was won centuries ago) with military parades and other mostly civic events. In the United States, however, it turned into more of a commercialized celebration, particularly in communities with a large Mexican-American population.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the win of the Mexican Army against the French on May 5, 1862. During this time, Mexico was in total financial ruin and was forced to default on many of the debts they had in many European countries, including France. In response to Mexico defaulting, Napoleon III sent troops to Mexico under the impression that he wanted to establish a French colony there. On this day in 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza led his Mexican army and defeated the much stronger and more powerful French army at the Battle of Puebla. This victory was a huge morale boost for Mexico and was considered a symbol of resistance for Mexico against other foreign entities trying to dominate the area. This battle was not the end, however, as France continued to occupy the territory for years to come.
HOW IT BECAME POPULAR
Cinco de Mayo became widely recognized outside of Mexico and in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s as a result of the Chicano movement. This was a movement that sought to celebrate and promote Mexican culture and heritage in a new country where they were rarely recognized and often discriminated against. During this time, Cinco de Mayo celebrations included dancing and folklore music. It also included different cultural events and even educational programs that taught others the significance of the Battle of Puebla. Over time, however, the holiday became quickly famous and was commercialized by business owners and marketers in the United States to promote Mexican food, drinks and other products. This commercialization has been criticized, as many think it attributed to the trivialization and promotion of stereotypes of Mexicans surrounding this holiday, but others see it as a great way for others to learn more about Mexican history and culture.
PARADES & PINATAS
Cinco de Mayo parades are a way to showcase Mexican culture and heritage and they usually feature large floats, bright-colored costumes, and high-energy music. In some cities with a large Mexican-American population (Like Los Angeles or Chicago), celebrations have become huge spectacles drawing thousands of visitors and viewers every year. Pinatas are also a huge part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations. A pinata is a brightly colored container made of papier-mache, and filled with small toys, candy, and sometimes even money. The pinata is suspended from the air and the participants are blindfolded and try to break it open with a long stick. It is important to note that while parades or pinatas are a huge part of Americanized Cinco de Mayo celebrations, they are seldom used in Mexico, with some parts of the country not observing the holiday at all!
TRADITIONAL DANCES AND MUSIC
There are many different types of songs or dances that are commonly performed during Cinco de Mayo celebrations. One is called Danza de los Viejitos, which directly translates to Dance of the Old Men. This is a traditional dance from the state of Michoacan that involves dancers wearing masks to represent older men, meant to symbolize the passing of time and the circle of life. Another is called La Bamba, a traditional Mexican folk song that is fast-paced and involves intricate footwork and hip movements and is usually performed in a group setting. Another traditional song that is typically sung during Cinco de Mayo celebrations is called Cielito Lindo, a popular Mexican love song that is usually sung with a guitar in a group.