There is plenty of misapprehension in the United States about Cinco de Mayo. While it is a widely celebrated holiday (read: excuse to drink) across the US, it is not celebrated quite the same way in Mexico.
May 5 commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, opens a new window, a large, game-changing confrontation between mixed Mexican irregular forces and an incurring French army, who made the attempt to take part—if not all—of Mexico, and return some semblance of European power to North America after the Monroe Doctrine.
The day is pretty much passed over in Mexico, except in Puebla, where they have parades, parties, and reenactments. Otherwise, many in Mexico save such fervor for Mexican Independence Day, on September 16.
So how did we end up getting behind this holiday?
Sometime in the 20th century, Mexican immigrants started recognizing the day to celebrate their heritage (much like Irish immigrants and their descendants did and continue to do on St. Patrick’s day, opens a new window). It stayed pretty low key and primarily in Mexican circles until the Mexican restaurant business began tying it into Mexican food and—more importantly—drinks.
While the vast majority of Americans who “celebrate” Cinco de Mayo do it with cervezas, the holiday in the US has managed to retain its original purpose in certain circles: many Americans of Mexican descent use the day and the time around it to recognize their heritage and build recognition among other cultural groups with events and celebrations much like those that happen in Puebla.
Sometimes, American officials use the date to mark significant events. For example, the celebration at the White House in 2014 included President Barack Obama's statement, opens a new window about the future of DREAMers.
Want to know more about Cinco de Mayo?
Want to learn more about the Battle of Puebla? Watch this movie!