Hola, amigos! It’s that time of year again when everyone goes crazy over sombreros, guacamole, and anything even remotely Mexican. You may think the entire country of Mexico also goes crazy on Cinco de Mayo, but there’s nothing farther from the truth. Although this isn’t a day for partying and dancing in Mexico, that doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful. Let me tell you all about it!
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For Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo is not a day to drown themselves in beer and guacamole. Instead, it’s an important historical date that has nothing to do with folk dancing and mariachis.
In contrast, Mexican-Americans do celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and it has become quite a popular and festive holiday all over the United States. How did that happen?
Keep reading to get the full story on this, amigos.
15 Important Facts You Need To Know About 5 De Mayo
1. First of all, Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day. I’ve met a few Americans, and even more than a few Mexican-Americans, who mistakenly believe this. FYI, Mexican Independence Day is on September 16th. Don’t get confused, people!
2. In Mexico, May 5th is a solemn civic holiday. It’s a day of remembrance and national pride. It’s also a day to remember our national heroes and the people who gave their life for our country. It’s not really appropriate to have a colorful fiesta on that day.
The Story of May 5th In Mexico
3. More than 150 years ago, Mexico was a young nation with plenty of problems. It was an unstable country, torn apart by constant internal wars and deep divisions. These conflicts made other, more powerful nations think that they should step in and take over the Mexican government.
4. Mexico was bankrupt from all that fighting, but it also owed a lot of money to France, England, and Spain. Those three countries threatened Mexico to either pay or suffer an invasion. Mexican President Juarez negotiated a treaty, which England and Spain agreed to sign, but France didn’t. Its army soon landed on the Mexican coast and started marching inland to take Mexico City.
5. France was ruled by the ambitious emperor Napoleon III, and he had the best army in the world. It was large and well-trained, and had gone undefeated for 50 years. Commander Lorencez boasted that his army was so superior to the Mexicans, he and his men would overrun the entire country in a few days’ time.
6. In contrast, the Mexican army was weak and divided after a recent civil war. It lacked troops, funding, weapons, and even uniforms. Most of the soldiers were undisciplined, ill-equipped, and badly fed. In spite of this, the Mexican army bravely gathered at the city of Puebla to await the French invaders.
7. The Mexican army was led by General Zaragoza, a 33-year-old military prodigy. On the eve of the battle, he rallied his troops by saying, “Our enemies are the best soldiers in the world, but you are the best sons of Mexico, and they want to take your country away from you. Do not let them!”
7. Everyone knew the fate of the country would be decided at Puebla. This was the largest city on the way from the coast to Mexico City, so it was very important to keep it from falling. The battle began on May 5th, 1862, at 9:30 in the morning. The French army expected to take over the city quickly and easily, but surprisingly, they were in full retreat by 6:00 that evening.
8. The French defeat was headline news all over the world. The feeble, little Mexican army had defeated a much more powerful enemy, and that was a huge boost for the country’s morale. It sent a message to the world that Mexico was not going down without a fight.
9. Sadly, May 5th didn’t go down in history as a happy occasion because the victory was short-lived. The war went on, General Zaragoza died of typhoid fever, and the French took over the country. In a bizarre turn of events, Mexico was turned into an empire ruled by the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian of Austria. The Republic of Mexico ceased to exist during this time.
10. Fortunately, there were many brave Mexicans, like President Juarez, who kept on fighting against the invaders. Eventually, they succeeded. Four years later, the French were finally driven out of Mexico, and their allies, Archduke Maximilian included, were executed. It was a lesson for the world. No other country has ever tried to take over Mexico again.
The Real Meaning Of Cinco De Mayo
11. The Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862, has a deep, symbolic value. The defeat of a foreign invader by the Mexican army is a source of national pride. It’s also an example of what Mexicans can achieve when we overcome our differences and fight together, even if the odds are all against us. That’s why May 5th is a solemn civic holiday.
12. Mexicans don’t find it appropriate to have a big, loud fiesta on May 5th. Rather, it’s a day to remember the heroes of the battle, as well as the fallen. There are military parades and battle reenactments, with the largest taking place in the city of Puebla. Also, it’s the day when all the young men who have completed their compulsory military service take an oath of allegiance. It’s all a very serious affair.
How Cinco De Mayo Became An American Holiday
13. Mexican-Americans have commemorated the Battle of Puebla every year for more than a century, but the holiday really took off in the 1960s. That was when the Chicano movement drew on the symbolic value of the Battle of Puebla to give Mexican-Americans a sense of pride. Gradually, the date evolved into a celebration of Mexican heritage.
14. By 1980s, the holiday was popular enough so that American companies decided to take notice and appeal to Latino consumers. That’s why all the stores have special sales of beer, chips, and the like, and Mexican restaurants and bars are crowded.
15. Not all the festivities are so shallow, of course. There are also cultural events and ceremonies that celebrate Mexican heritage on Cinco de Mayo. Most of these feature Mexican folk dancing, mariachis, and Mexican food. The holiday has become the Mexican version of Saint Patrick’s Day.
May 5th Or Cinco De Mayo?
This date has two different meanings, depending on which side of the border you live in. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a festive day, a celebration of Mexican heritage. In contrast, May 5th is a serious day of remembrance in Mexico, with no colorful parties going on. It seems like a huge difference, right?
However, I believe we shouldn’t focus on the difference. As it turns out, Mexicans and Americans both hold a special place in their hearts for Cinco de Mayo, or May 5th. We should take this as an opportunity to feel closer to each other, because clearly we have a lot more in common than we can imagine. We could be more than just neighbors. We could be friends. What do you think?