Cinco de Mayo, or May Fifth, is a holiday celebrating the date of the victory of the Mexican Army over France on May 5, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. The day that falls on Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 is also known as the Battle of Puebla Day. While it is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has become a memorial of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States, especially in areas with large Mexican-American populations.
History of Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, a common misconception. Instead, it is reminiscent of a single battle. In 1861, Benito JuÃ¡rez – a lawyer and member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe – was elected President of Mexico. Back then, after years of internal struggle, the country was in financial ruin and the new president was forced not to pay the debt to European governments.
In response, France, Great Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico to demand repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their troops.
However, France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to take the opportunity to build an empire out of Mexican territory. At the end of 1861 a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landed a large number of troops and drove President JuÃ¡rez and his government to retreat.
The battle of Puebla
Sure that success would come quickly, 6,000 French soldiers under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, JuÃ¡rez assembled a ragged troop of 2,000 loyal men – many of them either Indigenous Mexicans or of mixed race – and sent them to Puebla.
The outnumbered and ill-supplied Mexicans, led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, fortified the city and prepared for the French attack. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez assembled his army – supported by heavy artillery – in front of the city of Puebla and led an attack.
How long did the battle of Puebla last?
The battle lasted from dawn to early evening, and by the time the French finally withdrew, they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Less than 100 Mexicans were killed in the clash.
Although Zaragoza was not a major strategic victory in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 was a major symbolic victory for the Mexican government and strengthened the resistance movement. In 1867, France finally withdrew, thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally able to help its beleaguered neighbor after the end of the civil war.
In the same year, the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been installed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon in 1864, was captured by the forces of JuÃ¡rez and executed. Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed after General Zaragoza, who died of typhus there months after his historic triumph.
Confusion with Mexican Independence Day
Many people outside Mexico mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican independence that was proclaimed more than 50 years before the Battle of Puebla.
The Independence Day in Mexico (DÃa de la Independencia) is celebrated on September 16, the anniversary of the famous “Grito de Dolores” (“Scream of Dolores”, based on the city of Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico) of the revolutionary priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla . a call to arms that amounted to a declaration of war on the Spanish colonial government in 1810.
Cinco de Mayo in Mexico
Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mainly observed in the state of Puebla, where the unlikely victory of Zaragoza took place, although other parts of the country also participate in the celebration.
Traditions include military parades, replicas of the Battle of Puebla, and other festive events. For many Mexicans, however, May 5th is a day like any other: It’s not a federal holiday, so offices, banks, and shops will remain open.
Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the United States?
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, especially in areas with sizable Mexican-American populations.
Chicano activists drew attention to the holiday in the 1960s, also because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans (such as Juarez) over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla.
Today night owls celebrate the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dances and traditional foods like tacos and mole poblano. Some of the biggest festivals take place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.