In the United States, Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “fifth of May”) is a reason to revel. Bars across the U.S. host celebrations with Corona beer and Mexico-themed decorations. College students throw raucous parties where they break open red, white and green colored pinatas. More than 150 U.S. cities hold official celebrations. Much of the nation makes a point to make merry on Cinco de Mayo, and it’s all in the name of Mexico.
But in Mexico, people don’t get so excited. Actually, most of the country doesn’t even recognize the holiday, possibly because Mexicans are more familiar with the history of Cinco de Mayo than Americans are. The event notes a battle won, but a war lost.
The history of Cinco de Mayo begins on May 5, 1862, when a Mexican army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin defeated a well-armed French militia in the Battle of Puebla. The French forces had outnumbered the Mexicans two-to-one, and the French were known for having a strong military. The two forces met in the Mexican state of Puebla, an area that now celebrates Cinco de Mayo far more than the rest of Mexico.
While the Battle of Puebla was a significant feat for the Mexican army, it only delayed the advancing French, who went on to occupy Mexico in 1863. The French remained in control of Mexico until they withdrew in 1866 and 1867 under pressure from the United States.
So although the history of Cinco de Mayo is rooted in an impressive victory for the Mexicans, the holiday is also a reminder of a war the country eventually lost. Thus Mexico doesn’t recognize Cinco de Mayo as a federal holiday, and many Mexicans don’t see much reason to celebrate. The celebration has actually become a largely U.S.-celebrated holiday — a day for a country that is 15 percent Hispanic to celebrate the culture of its neighbor to the South.
Cinco de Mayo first gained popularity in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s as the United States sought to develop a better relationship with Mexico. Many Chicano activists in the 1960s used the holiday to build pride among Mexican-Americans.
Many Americans inaccurately believe Cinco de Mayo to be a celebration of the independence of Mexico. From my experience, most American celebrants don’t seem too concerned about the history of Cinco de Mayo, and many repeat this myth unchallenged. Actually, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16.

This legal notice expires, and will be moved to the archive, on Friday May 31st, 2019.