It is “Cinco de Mayo” in the United States today. Yes, I did say the ‘United States’ and not Mexico. While in the U.S., this day is unofficially celebrated with chips, salsa, and margaritas, the fifth of May is just another day on the calendar for most parts of Mexico. However, don’t let this discourage you from having a good time this year. If you are like me, any excuse for light festivity is welcome during the pandemic. So, to get into the spirit of things, let’s learn a little more about this ‘holiday’ before cracking open a Corona (virus-free!) Mexican beer.
What happened on May 5th?
On May 5th, 1862, during the Second Franco-Mexican War (which lasted from 1861-1867), Mexico declared victory over France in the Battle of Puebla. Mexico was the weaker power in the fight, which gave the win a special significance to the Mexican troops and patriots. A spirit of victory over the invading forces was strong, however, short-lived, as France occupied Mexico soon thereafter.
Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?
Although Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday, it was celebrated by the people of Puebla for many years after the victory. In the U.S., this battle is seen as a triumph of the Mexican people over an invading European power. In the 1960s, during the civil rights period, Mexican-American activists part of the Chicano movement began to raise awareness for this day in the U.S. to celebrate the national heritage of the large Mexican immigrant populations across the country.
Cinco de Mayo:
- Is an unofficial holiday in the U.S. to celebrate Mexican heritage
- Is a day for festivity that includes parties, parades, dancing, and traditional foods
- Is celebrated most widely in U.S. cities with large Hispanic populations like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston
- Is NOT Mexican Independence Day (that is September 16th)
- Is NOT an excuse to do and say offensive nonsense
- Should NOT be an excuse to get black-out drunk (even if you’re in college 😉 )
In short, if you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, do it with respect for the holiday. Although there is much criticism about Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S., it is not a bad or controversial holiday at its core. Just like Christmas, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving, Cinco de Mayo is another day to eat, drink, and be merry. If you are going to celebrate the day at home this year, consider making your own guacamole or salsa. According to data from Tostitos and Sabra, Americans have been known to consume more than 16 million pounds of tortilla chips and over 25 million pounds of store-bought dips for the holiday.
So, when you are eating nachos and clanking margarita glasses, please take a moment to pause and say a toast in honor of Mexican-American heritage.