For the longest time I had no idea what Cinco de Mayo was. I knew that it a Mexican holiday widely celebrated in the United States. When I moved to Tucson many years ago, I learned two things: first, it is not Mexico’s version of Independence Day, and second, it isn’t really celebrated in many parts of Mexico. So what does Cinco de Mayo commemorate? I was curious to know more because I thought it must be something other than simply an excuse to drink Margaritas.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of the Mexican army over the invading French army. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time but the Mexican army, outnumbered 2 to 1, defeated the French in defense of their homeland. Shortly after the victory, President Juarez declared May 5th a National Holiday. Although school children in Mexico learn about the importance of the battle and schools close on May 5th, the holiday isn’t widely celebrated outside of Puebla, Mexico. In Puebla on May 5th, the people dress up as soldiers and reenact the war. Once the French are defeated, the celebrations begin; featuring colorful outfits, singing, dancing and feasting, in true Mexican fashion.
The holiday came to reflect a sense of pride in the Mexican people, a sense that they could overcome all odds. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate Mexican culture, similar to how St. Patrick’s Day has become a day to celebrate Irish culture.
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