Cinco de Mayo is America’s main celebration of Mexican American culture.
It’s important because two-thirds of our country was Mexico before it was the United States. We are neighbors who blame each other for all kinds of problems like brothers and sisters do, but the reality is that we are family, and always will be.
For Mexican American families, it’s a day to cherish our heritage and teach our children where they come from. For many other Americans, it’s a day to eat Mexican food, and maybe have a Marguerita or a shot of Mezcal. Whoa, I swallowed the worm. Mmm.
It’s the busiest day at Mexican restaurants and bars in the United States, so make your reservations early.
What’s Cinco de Mayo About?
There’s a lot of confusion about Cinco de Mayo. It’s not Mexican Independence Day. That’s in September.
Cinco de Mayo is a traditional festival in Puebla, México that celebrates the Mexican defeat of the mighty French army on May 5, 1862. The equivalent today would be defeating the U.S. Marines, so it was quite an accomplishment.
The Festival used to be celebrated only in Puebla, Mexico. It entered U.S. popular culture through Mexican American activists in 1960s Los Angeles who celebrated the Indigenous victory over Europeans. That’s Chicano Power!
Over a certain period of time Poblanos (people from Puebla) were New York City’s largest Mexican community.
Did it Really Change American History?
After being pushed out of the Americas by the Haitian Revolution, another great humanitarian accomplishment (1791-1804), the French tried to reestablish themselves and restart the sick but extremely profitable business of enslaving humans.
The French strategy was to conquer Mexico and use it as a base to link up with Confederate traitors against the United States in the American Civil War (1861-65).
Debt to developing countries is often a debt trap. When Mexico stopped making foreign interest payments in 1861, French, Spanish, and British naval forces blockaded Veracruz, the main Mexican Caribbean port.
French forces landed, and began moving up the road to take Mexico City. The town of Puebla is on that road.
On May 5, 1862, local Mexican forces defeated a French army that was twice its size and made up of some of the world’s most advanced military forces. This is what Cinco de Mayo celebrates.
The unexpected defeat cost the French the fighting season. By the time they regrouped and pushed on, the Confederacy was doomed.
If the young people of Pueblo hadn’t been so valiant, we might be a very different country today.
¡Viva Puebla! And have a wonderful Cinco de Mayo with your family.