Cinco de Mayo: It’s Not Just About Margaritas and Tequila Shots

Maglara /
Maglara /

Notoriously marked with parades, food, music, and dance, it’s a good day to indulge. I am referring to Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrated annually on May 5 in the United States and Mexico. While many believe the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla is Mexico’s Independence Day, this is far from true as we will see.

History and Origin

In 1861, Mexico was in a financial crisis, and the leader, then President Benito Juarez, declared a temporary moratorium on foreign debts owed to France, Britain, and Spain. However, Napoleon III of France had other plans as he decided to take advantage of this situation and sent troops to Mexico to demand repayment of the debt. This act was a desire to establish a French presence in Mexico and create a new empire in Latin America. The French forces arrived in Mexico in late 1861, and with the support of conservative Mexican factions, they began a campaign to overthrow the government of President Juarez.

The Mexican army was outnumbered by 4,500 soldiers and had far less modern equipment.

On May 5, 1862, the French forces marched towards Puebla, a strategically important city located east of Mexico City. The Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, had prepared a defensive position on a hill known as Cerro de Guadalupe. The French military attacked, but the Mexican soldiers repelled their initial assault. The French then launched a second attack, but again, the Mexicans held their ground and repelled the assault.

Despite the French army running low on ammunition and suffering casualties, they launched a third and final attack, but the Mexican soldiers, in an act of resilience, held their ground. The battle lasted several hours, but the Mexican army emerged victorious, successfully defending Puebla against a much larger and better-equipped enemy.

The Battle of Puebla was a significant victory for the Mexican army, though it took several years of fighting and diplomatic efforts for the Mexican army to expel the French from Mexico.

Busting Common Misconceptions

1. It is Mexico’s Independence Day

One of the most common misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo is that it commemorates Mexico’s Independence Day. However, this is inaccurate, as Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16.

2. Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla is a Major National Holiday in Mexico

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not a major national holiday in Mexico. While its celebrations happen in Puebla, where the Battle of Puebla took place, it is not the case in other parts of Mexico. Its primary celebrations are in the United States, where it has gained popularity as a festive occasion to celebrate Mexican culture, similar to St. Patrick’s Day.

3. It is All About Drinking and Partying

Another common misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that it is solely about drinking and partying, often portrayed as a day for excessive alcohol consumption. This misrepresentation has led to cultural appropriation and commercialization, where the holiday is often associated with stereotypical images of sombreros, mustaches, and tequila shots. However, as we have seen, Cinco de Mayo has historical and cultural significance for Mexicans, and its true meaning goes beyond excessive drinking and partying. It is an opportunity to honor and appreciate Mexican heritage, history, and contributions to American society.

4. Represents All of Hispanic/Latino Culture

While the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla is associated with Mexican culture, it does not represent all Hispanic/Latino cultures. Hispanic/Latino communities in the United States are diverse, with origins from various countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, and many more. Each of these cultures has a unique history, traditions, and holidays.

Nevertheless, the holiday has also become entangled in politics, particularly in recent years. Some conservatives have criticized the celebration of the holiday, arguing that it is a symbol of Mexican nationalism and anti-American sentiment. They say the holiday promotes a separatist mentality and undermines efforts to promote unity and integration in the US.

Hopefully, now with all the facts laid out, as we indulge a bit, whether it’s on the actual day or the weekend that follows, there’s knowledge of the reason for it all.