Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo doesn’t mark Mexican Independence, as many believe.

Instead, it’s meant to celebrate the Battle of Puebla, which was fought between the Mexican and French armies in 1862.

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Americans might love Cinco de Mayo, but few know what they're celebrating

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  • After Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, other nations did not want to recognize its autonomy.
  • After a civil war in the late 1850s, Benito Juárez became Mexico's first indigenous president in 1861.
  • Juárez canceled repayments on foreign loans to protect Mexico's struggling economy.
  • It angered Britain, Spain, and France, and they jointly sent a force to Mexico but withdrew when it became evident that Napoleon III had plans to overthrow the new Mexican government.
  • On May 5, 1862, the Battle of Puebla took place. Although the Mexican Army was outnumbered two to one, they repelled attacks by the French army on the city of Puebla.
  • Four days later, on May 9, 1862, Juárez declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday.
  • Even though the French eventually defeated the Mexican Army, the battle of Puebla proved that Mexico was a formidable opponent worthy of international respect.

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By defeating the French at the Battle of Puebla, Mexicans stopped the French army from moving northward toward the U.S. border, where they would likely have helped the Confederacy.

Mexico's victory likely changed the course of American history. The state of California viewed the victory as a defense of freedom.

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During the 1980s and 1990s, beer companies targeted Mexican Americans, encouraging them to celebrate their heritage with Bud Lights and Dos Equis.

Commodification soon followed, and today's revelers purchase piñatas, Mexican flag items, sombreros, and costumes.

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The legacy of Cinco de Mayo reminds us that the past is made meaningful in different ways by different people.

  • Mexicans that live outside of Puebla find other national and religious holidays more important.
  • The modern Puebla still reenact the Battle of Puebla.
  • Mexican Americans use the day to celebrate their shared heritage.
  • Americans without Mexican ancestry use the holiday as an excuse to drink margaritas.

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