CINCO DE MAYO

The fifth of May (Cinco de Mayo in Spanish) is a national holiday in Mexico, although the day is celebrated on a larger scale in the U.S.  This day is often confused with Mexican Independence Day which is celebrated on September 16th.  Cinco de Mayo is actually the anniversary of the battle of Pueblo that took place between the Mexicans and the French on May 5, 1862.   

It all started with a credit default in 1861, and after years of struggle Mexico was bankrupt.  That year, President Benito Juarez “issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.”  The French, weren’t interested in waiting around, so they invaded Mexico to retrieve their payments and tried to take over the country. 

The Battle of Puebla was a victory of a small Mexican Army (led by Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza) of 4,500 soldiers over the French invasion of a well-armed, professional army (led by Napoleon III) of 8,000 soldiers.  The battle lasted for 4 hours and marked a turning point in Mexican national pride. 

Although the battle of Puebla slowed the French, they returned with 30,000 troops the following year and captured Puebla.  The victory of Puebla amounted to little from a military sense, it nevertheless meant a great deal to Mexico in terms of pride and hope.

The Mexican community celebrates more than 365 festivals each year.  Cinco de Mayo is only one of them.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration started in the US in the year 1967 when a group of California State University students decided to hold the first Cinco de Mayo commemoration in the United States.  They did this because they felt there was no Chicano holiday and therefore thought of starting this tradition.  They wanted something to recapture their history and decided that the Battle of Puebla was symbolic. This helped them to connect it to their struggle for the formation of a Chicano Studies program at the university.

The largest Cinco de Mayo event in the world is held in Los Angeles, CA where more than 600,000 people celebrate.  Denver, Colorado and St Paul’s, Minnesota also draw hundreds of thousands of participants to their celebration.

The Mexican flag is green, white and red. The traditional meaning of the colors is thought to be that green stands for hope and the independence movement; white for purity and religion and red for Spain and union. The emblem in the middle consists of an eagle and a snake, based on an Aztec legend.

Margaritas have always been the unofficial drink of Cinco de Mayo, but they didn’t even exist until 1930….maybe another day to celebrate?

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