Cinco de Mayo 2013: 3 Fun Facts About the Holiday

It's Cinco de Mayo! Surely you're going to celebrate with some cervezas, margaritas, and delicious salsa. (Non-sponsored — Casa Sanchez Hot Salsa Roja is the only salsa worth talking about). But before you go join your friends to commemorate all the beautiful things (and people) Mexico has to offer, check out these five basic facts about Cinco de Mayo. 

You'll have something to discuss and will appear enlightened as you suck up the last sips of your Pomegranate Margarita. 

1. Cinco de Mayo Celebrates the Battle Of Puebla, NOT Mexican Independence Day


A painting depicting the Battle of Puebla

Many people mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican independence day. WRONG. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 victory by the Mexican army over France at the Battle of Puebla. The Franco-Mexican War lasted from 1861-1867 because the Mexican President Benito Juárez defaulted on his debts to European governments. France, Britain and Spain shipped off naval forces to Veracruz to claim their debts. Britain and Spain were intent on negotiating, but Napoleon's French army decided to annex Mexican territory instead.

Overly confident that their success would be quick and decisive, the French troops attached Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico, and overwhelmed the Mexican troops who were led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza.

The French were vastly more equipped and trained than the Mexican soldiers, but in the end, Mexican soldiers defeated the French. The war continued for six more years until France finally withdrew after being pressured by the U.S., and the Battle at Puebla even though small, was a major symbolic victory that kept Mexicans focused on fighting for their territory.

2. Cinco de Mayo is Not a Big Deal in Mexico


Car stuck in traffic in Puebla behind Flamenco dancers

Events like Dia De Los Muertos are far more popular in Mexico than Cinco de Mayo. The holiday is celebrated in the city of Puebla at the site of the victory, but apart from some parades and recreations of the battle, it is not celebrated in Mexico. Banks are open and it's not even a federal holiday.

3. Cinco de Mayo Celebrates Chicano/Chicana Identity in the U.S.


Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles on Cinco de Mayo

Areas with big Mexican-American populations like Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston have city-wide Cinco de Mayo celebrations to honor Chicano/Chicana heritage. The popularity of Cinco de Mayo started to grow in the 1960s because of Chicano activists who identified with the indigenous Mexicans' victory over European colonizers. Huge parades, parties, performances and all-around revelry involves mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and lots and lots of Mexican food. 

Even though that is far from all there is to know about this great holiday, I won't keep you from your mole poblano any longer. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

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Shwetika Baijal

Shwetika is PolicyMic's first columnist and writes for the Millenials and the Media column. She focuses on how the media frames policy and cultural issues, how the media's framing effects public opinion, and in turn how public opinion affects the policies and issues under discussion.

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