S Pakhrin from DC, USA (Cinco de mayo DC 2014). via Wikimedia Commons
It is not unusual for people to confuse Cinco de Mayo celebrated on May 5th with Mexico’s independent celebration celebrated September 16. Those that do not understand the history of Cinco de Mayo will always conflate it with Mexico’s Independence day not just because of its popularity, but also because the victory of the battle that created Cinco de Mayo has become a signifier for Mexico’s nationalism.
Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a bloody war that showed the prowess and victory of the scanty Mexico army over a well-armed French army that had been celebrated for its fearlessness. Known as the Battle of Puebla, the foundation for the war began about 1861. That year, Mexico had been invaded by Spain, France and Great Britain. Within six months, however, Spain and Britain pulled out of Mexico leaving France as the only hegemonic power.
Exploring the U.S. Civil War raging north of the Mexican border, the French took advantage of the chaos and invaded Mexico, which had been decimated by war in the late 1850s. The situation in Mexico made it easy for the French to ram through many parts of Mexico, and 1862 was gradually becoming a swift victory for the French. That was before May 5, 1862 when they got to the town of Puebla.
Located about 85 miles from east of Mexico City, Puebla was the waterloo for the French soldiers. At Puebla, a small Mexican army under the command of Ignacio Zaragoza mounted a spirited defense against the experienced and larger French contingent. After a fierce battle, the small Mexican army won and David had defeated Goliath.
Since that epochal victory of May 5, 1862, Cinco de Mayo has become a reason to celebrate not just for Mexicans and Mexican immigrants, but also Latinos and all those who love having fun. Although the celebration is perhaps very symbolic as the French went on to take over Mexico and established the brief Second Mexican Empire under Emperor Maximilian, Cinco de Mayo has become a reason to celebrate a sense of nationalism.
Although celebrated in Mexico especially Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is heavily celebrated in the United States. In Goliad, Texas where Zaragoza was born, the celebration is celebrated every year with passion. Located about 60 miles due north of Corpus Christi, Goliad, Texas was declared the official place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in 1999.
Cinco de Mayo is characterized by great festivities. In Texas, there are life music, dance, outdoor cooking and party at the Goliad Fairgrounds. But Cinco de Mayo celebrations are not limited to Texas. From Chicago to Denver, Portland, Oregon, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Washington DC, Cinco de Mayo festivals bring together Mexican immigrants and Latino population.
There is always so much to eat and drink during Cinco de Mayo Fiestas. Beyond Taco, there is Guacamole, fajitas, Mexico roasted or grilled corn, Citrus-Marinated Shrimp with Grilled-Onion and Orange Salad, Easy Fiesta Beans, Nacho Casserole, Chicken and Corn Chilaquiles Casserole, and Chili and Beer-Braised Brisket among many others.