It’s not Mexico’s Independence Day

When you think about Cinco de Mayo, you may think tacos, margaritas, piñatas and Mariachi bands. You also may think that it’s Mexico’s Day of Independence. Yet, contrary to popular belief, the holiday does not celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually September 16.

Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, actually commemorates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. As compared to Mexico, the holiday is actually celebrated in greater strength in the United States, focusing largely on Mexican heritage and culture – particularly in locations with significant Mexican-American populations.

battle-of-pueble-painting May 5, 1862.

The Battle of Puebla

Benito Juarez, a member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe, was elected president of Mexico, in 1861. During this time, Mexico was suffering from severe economic turmoil, and defaulting on debt payments to European governments. After several countries sent naval forces to recover payment, France’s leader Napoleon III set out to create an empire in Mexico.

After French troops landed in Veracruz, forcing back the Mexican government, 6,000 French troops attacked Puebla de Los Angeles, a small Mexican village. Juarez was able to send only 2000 poorly armed men to fight back in this battle, but lost only 100 soldiers compared to the 500 casualties on the French side. This huge symbolic win on May 5 boosted the Mexican resistance. The war would continue until France finally withdrew in 1867, in part due to the United States’ military and political pressure.

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is most heartily observed in Puebla, where the Mexican troops’ unlikely victory occurred. The celebration includes parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festivities. Many Mexicans, however, do not celebrate Cinco do Mayo, as it’s not a federal holiday, so people must work at their offices, stores, and banks, which remain open.

Mexico’s independence was declared long before Cinco de Mayo – 50 years before the Battle of Puebla. People celebrate that day on September 16, the anniversary of the date in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla – the revolutionary priest – made his famous “Grito de Dolores” (“Cry for Dolores”), a call to arms that declared war against the Spanish colonial government.

So, at your own Cinco de Mayo celebrations, enlighten friends and coworkers with a little history about the true nature of the holiday.




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