The History of Cinco de Mayo

1 May

Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated throughout the United States. If you plan on partaking in the celebration, it’s important to know exactly what you’re celebrating. If you’re saying to yourself, “It’s Mexican Independence Day, right?”. Well, not exactly. But that’s okay! We’re here to learn!

So, here’s the basic run down on what we’re celebrating:

Many Americans think Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, which is understandable since it sounds pretty similar to “Fourth of July”. However, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Britain, Spain, and France attacked Mexico, after Mexico failed to reimburse the European countries for the money it previously borrowed. Britain and Spain struck a deal with Mexico and exited the war, but Napoleon III, ruler of France, saw the war as an opportunity to take power over Mexican territory.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 12.47.18 PM

Town of Puebla

In 1862, French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, set out to attack the town of Puebla with 6,000 troops. Mexican President Benito Juárez sent Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza with only 2,000 to fight back. The battle lasted one day and the Mexican army was severely outnumbered. After 500 French soldiers died (and less than 100 Mexican soldier deaths), General Charles Latrille de Lorencez withdrew his troops. The Mexican army claimed victory of the Battle of Puebla.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that Cinco de Mayo is not a huge celebration in Mexico. The holiday is mainly celebrated around the Town of Puebla, but it is not a federal holiday. However, celebrations include military parades and recreations of the battle.


In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is seen as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, especially in areas with a large population of Mexican-Americans, like Tucson. Many parties are held with mariachi bands and folklórico dancers. (For Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Tucson, click here)


If you go out and celebrate Cinco de Mayo this week, now you know what you’re actually celebrating! Yay for culture!


P.S. In case you were wondering, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th.

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