Cinco de Mayo (not to be pronounced like the condiment), which is Spanish for “Fifth of May,” is an annual holiday in the United States that commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the French Empire and celebrates Mexican-American culture. Truth be told, Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated here than in Mexico itself. This is not to say it is not observed in Mexico, but celebrations on this day are much more prevalent in our nation.
In the country of Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mostly observed in Puebla, which is where General Ignacio Zaragoza and his soldiers won the Battle of Puebla in 1862. We’ll get more into that later in this article. In Puebla along with other parts of the country, Mexicans take part in traditions such as military parades, reenactments of the Battle of Puebla and fun pachangas or parties.
What Cinco de Mayo Is Not: Mexican Independence Day
There is actually this common misconception in the United States that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain. If you have ever seen a compilation video of Americans being asked what Cinco de Mayo is, the majority of the answers given point to Mexico’s independence day, but not necessarily from Spain. Some people think it is their independence from a number of countries including France.
That is definitely not the case. Furthermore, independence day in Mexico (Día de la Independencia) was declared more than 50 years prior to the Battle of Puebla. The country’s independence day is September 16, when there was a call to arms that set in motion a declaration of war against the Spanish colonial government in 1810. Worth noting is that this day is the most celebrated day in Mexico.
The History of Cinco de Mayo
As already mentioned, Cinco de Mayo is the yearly anniversary of the Mexican-French battle won by Mexico. It is a single battle that happened in 1862, but began brewing a year earlier when Benito Juárez, a lawyer and member of the Indigenous Zapotec tribe was elected as Mexico’s president. During this time, the country was suffering financially after years of turmoil. This led the newly-elected president to have to default on debt payments to European governments.
As a result, France, Spain and Britain responded by sending naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, to demand repayment. Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and removed their forces from the country. France, on the other hand, which was ruled by Napoleon III at that time, decided to try to establish an empire out of Mexican territory. It was late in 1861 when a heavily-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz and drove President Juárez and his government to retreat.
The Infamous Battle of Puebla
Confident of swift success, 6,000 French troops set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles in east-central Mexico. While headquartered in the north, Juárez rallied together 2,000 men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the largely outnumbered and poorly supplied men fortified the town and prepared for the oncoming assault by the French. On May 5, 1862, General Charles de Lorencez gathered his army before the city of Puebla.
The battle ensued and lasted from sunrise to early evening. When the French retreated, they had lost about 500 soldiers while less than 100 Mexican lives were lost in the battle. Ultimately,
the French were defeated by a significantly smaller and less-armed Mexican force, which was a huge morale boost for the Mexicans.
Unfortunately, Zaragoza died from an illness months after the battle, and a larger French military presence ended up defeating the Mexican army during the Second Battle of Puebla and later occupied Mexico City. This is a little known fact, but it does not take away from what occurred on May 5th nearly 160 years ago.
In 1863, Cinco de Mayo celebrations started in the state of California and have been going on ever since.
Why and How the United States Celebrates Cinco de Mayo
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated for Mexican culture and heritage, especially in areas with larger Mexican-American populations. In the 1960s, Chicano activists were raising awareness of the meaning of the holiday. However, Cinco de Mayo gained more traction in the 1980s due to aggressive advertising campaigns by popular Mexican-imported beer and tequila companies. That advertisement push has been so successful to this day that Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on level with the Super Bowl.
Today, Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo by participating in parades with Mexican folk dancing, pachangas or parties with a live mariachi band and devouring traditional foods including tacos as the main course. A few of the largest Cinco de Mayo festivals are held in Los Angeles and Houston.
Mexican restaurants across the country like Esmeralda’s 2.0 The Best Mexican Restaurant In Eureka, definitely host more patrons on this national holiday than most other holidays. Guests can enjoy our dollar tacos, which are $1 all day every day including Cinco de Mayo, as well as our other popular menu items. Of course, we also have our delivery service as an option for those who want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo more intimately. Feel free to order online or call us at (707) 442-0887.
Esmeralda’s 2.0 The Best Mexican Restaurant In Eureka
328 Grotto St
Eureka, CA 95501