The history of Cinco de Mayo and how to celebrate it


Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a widely celebrated holiday in the United States, but not so much in Mexico where the holiday has its roots. But what exactly is Cinco de Mayo? 

Contrary to what many think, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day. Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a small army’s victory over the French army during the Franco-Mexican war on May 5, 1862. This war started due to Mexico defaulting on debt against European countries. Spain and Britain sent troops to Mexico, but Mexico made a deal with them and they would withdraw their forces. France, however, wanted to try and take over Mexico while they were down. 

A war would start, and General Ignacio Zaragoza was put in charge of 2,000 Mexican troops in the state of Puebla. The French and their 6,000 troops went into Puebla, but would lose 500 soldiers and retreat back. Retreat, followed by fewer than 100 casualties, resulted in the Mexican army viewing this victory as a symbolic one, and would be used as inspiration throughout the rest of the war. 

Even though this was a big deal for Mexico at the time, to this day it is still not widely celebrated. It is not a federal holiday throughout Mexico, and is only really celebrated in the state of Puebla with military parades and battle reenactments. 

In the United States, however, it is greatly celebrated by Mexican-Americans. It all started in the 1960s when Chicano (a chosen identity of some Mexican-Americans) activists started celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Chicano activists saw themselves as the underdog, such as Mexico during the Franco-Mexican war, and decided to take that victory for themselves. Additionally, the celebration helped build pride for being Mexican-American, and would connect back to Mexican history and culture. 

Unfortunately, the 1980s would be the rise of commercialization for Cinco de Mayo, and the holiday would quickly lose its true meaning. To this day, the holiday is widely celebrated even though most don’t know the true origin. But how should one celebrate this holiday? 

The best way to celebrate this holiday is to attend a festival. There are usually a lot of festivals going on for Cinco de Mayo with Bailes Folklóricos (folkloric dances), mariachi music, and numerous games available for all to play. 

Another great way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo is eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant. There are a lot of small businesses around Portland, and it is worth supporting them. It’s better to celebrate by supporting a small business rather than celebrating with Taco Bell or Chipotle. 

Cinco de Mayo has a long and fascinating history. It is more than what most realize, and people should know the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo before celebrating it.