Not Sure What Cinco de Mayo Is All About? You’re Not Alone…
So here are five facts that will probably surprise you about Cinco de Mayo:
5. The hero of the original Cinco de Mayo was a Texan.
General Ignacio Zaragosa, who led the ragtag Mexican forces to victory over the superior French army, was born near what is now Goliad, Texas. “This fact should make Americans, especially Texans, very proud of their connection to that event,” said Raul Ramos of the University of Houston. “But often it doesn’t resonate. The Mexican aspect of Texas history has been so marginalized and ghettoized, it takes extra effort for people to learn about it.”
Ramos pointed out that the fact that a Tejano (or “Tex-Mex”) has a link to Cinco de Mayo reflects the reality that Mexican history is part of American history. “It gives you a sense that our countries have had a shared history going back hundreds of years,” he said. “It is something that extends to cultural and national ties as well as family ties.”
4. Cinco de Mayo has a connection to the U.S. Civil War.
David Hayes-Bautista, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California Los Angeles, has written that Cinco de Mayo is very much an American holiday.
His research shows that the celebration began among Mexicans in California in the mid-19th century. The Battle of Puebla, he explained, occurred at a time when the Confederacy was expanding into New Mexico and Arizona, getting closer to California (which was a free state).
“Back then, when Latinos here got the news that French were stopped at Puebla, it electrified the population, and propelled them to a new level of civic participation. Latinos joined the Union army and navy and some went back to Mexico to fight the French,” Hayes-Bautista told NBC News.
3. Cinco de Mayo is a bigger celebration in the U.S. than in Mexico.
“Recent Mexican immigrants are often surprised at what a huge thing Cinco de Mayo has become here,” said Sánchez. “They do celebrate the holiday in Mexico, but it is only a big deal in Puebla.”
“It (Cinco de Mayo) started out as a cultural celebration, then became bigger and bigger,” said Sánchez. “And at some point it became very commercial; with people taking advantage of the day to drink all the Coronas they can drink.”
The evolution of Cinco de Mayo can be seen as a metaphor for Mexican-American assimilation. The first American Cinco de Mayo celebrations date back to the 1860s, when Mexicans in California commemorated the victory. About a century later, Chicano activists rediscovered the holiday and embraced it as a symbol of ethnic pride.
2. Cinco de Mayo commemorates a military victory over France — not Spain.
Why was Mexico at war with France? Because the Mexican government had defaulted on its foreign debt to several European countries, so France invaded our southern neighbor.
Napoleon III hoped to install a monarchy in Mexico (which he was able to do for a few years before Mexico ousted the French). “The French army was considered the best army in the world at the time, and they had not been defeated in decades,” Professor Margarita Sánchez of Wagner College told NBC News. “So this was a real David versus Goliath situation that inspired Mexicans at home and in the U.S.”
1. It‘s not Mexico’s Independence Day!
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the triumph of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. This victory occurred over 50 years after Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16.
“The significance of Cinco de Mayo is that it represents Mexican resistance to foreign intervention, it is a moment where Mexico as a young nation rallied to defend itself,” said Raul Ramos, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston. “But it was not a struggle for independence. Instead it represented a struggle against imperialism.”