Cinco de Mayo – An American Invention?

Cinco de Mayo Image

For many people living in the United States, the 5th of May, or Cinco de Mayo, is a day to let loose and celebrate. With visions of margaritas and cervezas, crazy sombreros and delicious Mexican food, for many Cinco de Mayo is a day to leave work early and hit the neighborhood cantina for a Mexican fiesta. The irony is that while the Americans are partying it up in the USA, it is just a normal day in Mexico without fanfare, parties or even as much as a second thought given to the day…why is this?
Americans widely believe that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence, but this is just not the case. Mexico earned its independence from Spain in 1821 and celebrates this day – the most important national holiday of the year – on September 16. Cinco de Mayo is merely the anniversary of the Mexican military’s triumph over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It was an important victory to the Mexican people because their smaller, outnumbered army defeated the larger French forces, helping the Mexican people develop a much needed sense of national identity in Mexico (which is the reason for its continued celebration).

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Mexico as a regional holiday in the State of Puebla (where the famous battle took place), but really nowhere else in Mexico. Yet, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo in the United States has exploded! It seems that Americans have transformed the day from its origin as the commemoration of a Mexican military victory into a day to celebrate Mexican pride and culture – similarly to the celebrations of the Irish, German and Chinese heritages associated with St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest or the Chinese New Year.

So, even though the US celebration of Cinco de Mayo has evolved into something bigger than the actual holiday itself, it remains a great day to join in to celebrate the vibrant Mexican culture. So, go on, leave work early, head down to a Cinco de Mayo celebration and shout “Viva Mexico!”