Many people in the USA live under the impression that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration that marks Mexico’s day of independence. Well, it’s not. But, to be fair, Cinco de Mayo means different things depending on the territory you’re on. With that being said, it’s time that we uncover the true significance of this observance. Learn about its origins, historical meaning, and differences from one country to another.

Cinco de Mayo Parade

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When Is Cinco de Mayo?

Since Cinco de Mayo literally translates to “May 5th” it seems pretty obvious that the observance day is May 5. It’s a date with historical roots since on May 5, 1862 the Mexican Army came out (surprisingly victorious) from the Battle at Puebla, fought against the French troops.

Meaning Of Cinco de Mayo

For Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday which people celebrate in order to reminiscence over the unlikely victory of the Mexican Army during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Within Mexico’s borders, people observe the day in a mostly commemorative way, organizing military parades and focusing on the historical and belligerent aspect of it.

In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo mostly lost its initial meaning, people viewing it now as a day to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. It’s particularly popular in spaces that contain a high density of Mexican people. Parades, street festivals, and mariachi music are all common traditions to celebrate Cinco de Mayo through.

The History Of Cinco de Mayo

The story of Mexico’s surprise victory is something worthy of a proper Hollywood adaptation. It’s just how incredibly inspiring it is. We give a context by kicking off this histoire in 1806 when liberal Mexican Benito Juárez took the seat of presidency in Mexico. At that time, Mexico was largely in financial ruin and was highly dependent on the economic support offered by European countries. Forced by the difficult situation of the country, Juárez had to default on his debts to the governments of Europe.

Responses didn’t fail to arrive, starting with Britain, France, and Spain. All three countries sent their naval forces to Veracruz, demanding a reimbursement from the Mexican government. Upon negotiations, Britain and Spain withdrew their forces. France, on the other hand, led by Napoleon III at the time, saw an opportunity to transform the Mexican territory into a dependent empire. Armed to the teeth, numerous French troops raided Veracruz, cornering Juárez and his own forces.

Around 6,000 French troops had Charles Latrille de Lorencez as their general. Lorencez’s attack was to deliver one last blow by setting out an attack on the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles. In the meantime, Juárez amassed a force worth of 2,000 loyal men and appointed General Ignacio Zaragoza as the one to lead the defenses against the upcoming French attack.

In 1962, Lorencez’s forces arrived at a heavily fortified Puebla and clashed with Zaragoza and his troops. Despite the certainty of victory, Lorencez saw that day the loss of approximately 500 French soldiers. Zaragoza, on the other hand, only had to bid farewell to roughly 100 Mexican lives. Although all odds seemed to be lined up in his favor, Lorencez had to withdraw.

The Aftermath Of Puebla

In the big picture of the Franco-Mexican War, the Battle at Puebla didn’t have a significant impact from a strategic standpoint. What it DID have, though, was an impressive emotional value. Many saw the victory as symbolic and clung to it as an ideal of hope.

The war lasted for a little over six years and it was put to an end by the intervention of a third party. The United States, freshly out of its own Civil War, finally found the resources to aid Mexico against France. Through political pressure and military assistance, the alliance concluded with the French calling quits and retreating their armies.

Also in 1967, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, the Mexican emperor appointed by Napoleon III, fell victim to the resistance forces. Juárez’s forces captured him and executed him. In honor of this legendary and odd-defying victory, Puebla de Los Angeles earned its name after General Zaragoza.

Cinco de Mayo Observances

Mexico

Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo in remembrance of Zaraguza’s victory, though the holiday nearly went national at some point. In 1862, President Juárez announced his intention of declaring May 5 a national holiday. Intently, it would be named either “Battle of Puebla Day” or “Battle of Cinco de Mayo”. However, the holiday isn’t national in present day. It is an official holiday in the state of Puebla, though, and in Veracruz, it’s a non-working day.

United States

In the USA, awareness regarding this holiday started rising around the 1960s all thanks to the Chicano activists. They recognized themselves in the victory of Puebla since it symbolized the win of indigenous Mexicans over European colonization. Despite starting off as a commemoration day, Cinco de Mayo took flight in the US. The holiday evolved into an observance that honors Mexican culture. It’s a particularly prominent holiday in communities with high percentages of Mexican Americans.

The most significant observances are in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. There, people can also attend some of the biggest Cinco de Mayo festivals.

Independence Day Confusion

Cinco de Mayo is not the same thing as Mexico’s day of independence. This comes contrary to the popular belief of quite a few of non-Mexican people. Mexico’s independence is on September 16, the anniversary of priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s “Cry of Dolores.” Natively known as “Grito de Dolores,” Costilla’s creation was a call to arms. It served as a declaration of war against Spanish colonialists.

Conclusion

Cinco de Mayo does not mark Mexico’s independence day. Rather, it’s a moment in the nation’s history that’s full of symbolism on hope and determination.