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It’s Cinco de What?

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The yearly “Cinco de Mayo” celebration. Contrary to popular opinion it is not Spanish for, “Hey, you’ve got mayonnaise all over my sink.” OK, it’s really Spanish for “The Fifth of May.” It’s a widely celebrated holiday in the US but there are many misconceptions. Luckily, I can clear them up for you so you can speak intelligently about what you’ll be celebrating this coming Sunday and why.

It’s NOT Mexican Independence Day

Many people are under the mistaken impression that May 5th is the equivalent of our July 4th. Not true. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th. On that day in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo called for his parishioners to take up arms and overthrow Spanish tyranny.

Then What Is Cinco de Mayo Anyway?

Cinco de Mayo took place 52 years after the Mexican Independence Day on May 5, 1862. While the US was fighting the Civil War, Mexicans were battling French forces at the Battle of Puebla. France was marching across Mexico determined to collect some war debts owed them. The French had a much larger, better trained, army and were determined to take Mexico City.

When the French reached the city of Puebla, they met a rag tag group of fighters much like Santa Anna met at the Alamo. The French were initially defeated but the victory was short lived. Just like the Alamo, the French regrouped and eventually overtook Puebla and eventually captured Mexico City. However, like our Alamo, the Mexican people celebrated the valiant efforts of the brave men who fought the Battle of Puebla.

Is Cinco de Mayo a Big Holiday In Mexico?

No, not really. It is actually celebrated more widely in the US than it is in Mexico. It is a big deal in Puebla, where the famous battle took place, but in most of Mexico it’s ignored. Mexican Independence Day is a much bigger celebration in Mexico than Cinco de Mayo.

My theory that it’s celebrated more widely in the US is that Mexican Nationals developed a kinship with Americans, and the Battle of the Alamo, that took place on March 6, 1836 — thirty-two years earlier than the Battle of Puebla. The two battles were similar with both armies holding their own for a short time against overwhelming opposition. American’s love an underdog.

Some Final Thoughts

So prepare for every Mexican Restaurant and bar to be packed with Cinco Psycho’s on Saturday and Sunday night, half in the bag, having no clue what they are celebrating. If you are out among the masses this weekend see how many people actually know the story of the Battle of Puebla.

If they do, they deserve a Margarita and some Nachos. How are you going to celebrate the Battle of Puebla on May 5th?

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