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Who Made Cinco De Mayo A Holiday


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Nettle Weintraub



Cinco de Mayo, which translates to “Fifth of May” in Spanish, is a holiday that has gained popularity and recognition in many parts of the world, particularly in the United States. While widely celebrated, there is often confusion about the origins and true significance of this holiday. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, but rather commemorates a significant event in Mexican history.


The holiday has become an occasion to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage, with parades, parties, and vibrant festivities taking place in communities across the globe. But who made Cinco de Mayo a holiday, and what is the story behind it?


To understand the roots of Cinco de Mayo, it is essential to delve into the historical context of 19th-century Mexico. At the time, Mexico was struggling with political instability and economic hardship following its independence from Spain in 1821. The country was also dealing with external pressures, including the threat of invasion from France.


Although Mexico had been in debt to several European countries, including France, the Mexican government decided to suspend loan repayments to focus on domestic issues. This decision angered France’s Napoleon III, who saw an opportunity to extend French influence in the region. In 1861, French forces, under the command of General Charles de Lorencez, invaded Mexico with the intention of establishing a French-controlled empire.


Historical Background

To fully appreciate the significance of Cinco de Mayo, it is crucial to understand the historical context in which the holiday originated. In the mid-19th century, Mexico was grappling with numerous internal challenges, including political instability and financial difficulties. These struggles paved the way for the emergence of the French intervention in Mexico.


In 1861, Mexico, under the presidency of Benito Juárez, suspended interest payments to its foreign creditors. This move enraged countries such as France, Spain, and England, who decided to send military forces to Mexico to collect their debts. While Spain and England eventually negotiated and withdrew their forces, the French under the leadership of Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to establish a French-controlled empire in the Americas.


The French army, well-trained and fully equipped, was headed by General Charles de Lorencez. They set their sights on Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, with the intention of solidifying French control. However, before they could reach their ultimate goal, they first had to face off against Mexican forces in the Battle of Puebla.


The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862, and it pitted a small, untrained Mexican army against the powerful French forces. Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexican troops, although heavily outnumbered, were determined to defend their homeland. In a surprising turn of events, the Mexican army triumphed over the French, defeating them and forcing them to retreat.


While the victory at the Battle of Puebla was a significant achievement for Mexico, it did not mark the end of the French intervention. The French regrouped and continued their campaign, eventually capturing Mexico City and establishing Maximilian I of Austria as the puppet emperor of Mexico.


Despite the ultimate French occupation, the Battle of Puebla came to symbolize the resilience and determination of the Mexican people in the face of adversity. It demonstrated that a smaller, less-equipped army could stand up against a more powerful and well-established force. This historic event laid the foundation for the celebration of Cinco de Mayo as a symbol of Mexican resistance and national pride.


The Battle of Puebla

The Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862, is a pivotal event in Mexican history and the primary reason behind the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The battle took place in the city of Puebla, located in central Mexico, and pitched the Mexican army against the invading French forces.


Leading up to the battle, the Mexican army, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, had been hastily assembled and consisted of a relatively small force of around 4,500 men. In contrast, the French army, led by General Charles de Lorencez, numbered around 6,000 soldiers and was considered one of the most powerful military forces in the world at the time.


On the morning of May 5, 1862, the French army launched a full-scale assault on the Mexican positions. The battle was fierce and intense, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. The Mexican troops, fighting valiantly, managed to hold their ground and repel the initial French attacks.


Despite being at a numerical disadvantage, the Mexican army utilized their knowledge of the local terrain and their sheer determination to mount a successful defense. The French, on the other hand, faced challenges such as unfamiliarity with the environment and the tenacity of the Mexican soldiers.


Throughout the day, the battle raged on, with neither side gaining a decisive advantage. However, as evening approached, the Mexican forces launched a daring counterattack that caught the French off guard. The Mexican cavalry played a vital role in this maneuver, delivering a decisive blow to the French ranks.


In the end, the Battle of Puebla resulted in a significant victory for the Mexican army. They succeeded in repelling the French invasion and inflicting heavy casualties on their foe. The Mexican troops’ heroism and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds became a source of inspiration and pride for the Mexican people.


While the victory at the Battle of Puebla was undoubtedly remarkable, it should be noted that it did not signal the end of the French intervention in Mexico. The French regrouped, continued their campaign, and eventually captured Mexico City. However, the Battle of Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance and unity, highlighting the bravery and determination of the Mexican people in the face of foreign aggression.


Spread and Celebration of Cinco de Mayo

Following the historic victory at the Battle of Puebla, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo began to spread throughout Mexico and eventually reached Mexican communities in the United States. Initially, the holiday served as a local commemoration of the battle, but over time, it evolved into a broader celebration of Mexican heritage and culture.


In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, where the battle took place. The day is marked with parades, military reenactments, and cultural events that showcase the region’s history and traditions. It is an opportunity for Mexicans to come together, reflect on their country’s resilience, and honor those who fought for independence.


Outside of Mexico, particularly in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has gained significant popularity and is widely celebrated. Mexican-American communities have played a crucial role in spreading the holiday and ensuring its observance across the country. They have organized vibrant parades, festive parties, and cultural exhibitions to showcase Mexican traditions, cuisine, music, and dance.


Over time, Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States have taken on a multicultural flavor, attracting people from various backgrounds who appreciate and enjoy Mexican culture. It has become an occasion for Americans to celebrate diversity and show solidarity with their Mexican neighbors and friends.


Today, Cinco de Mayo is not only celebrated in the United States and Mexico but also in other parts of the world where there are Mexican communities. Countries like Canada, Australia, and some European nations have embraced the holiday, hosting events that showcase Mexican culture and strengthen connections between people of different backgrounds.


It is important to note that while Cinco de Mayo has become a widely recognized and appreciated holiday, its significance may vary among individuals. For some, it represents a moment of national pride and historical remembrance, while for others, it is an opportunity to celebrate Mexican heritage and enjoy the festivities that come with it.


Overall, the spread and celebration of Cinco de Mayo have contributed to fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of Mexican culture worldwide. It serves as a reminder of the triumphs and struggles of the Mexican people and the importance of unity in the face of adversity.


Influence of Mexican-American Community

The Mexican-American community has played a significant role in the spread and celebration of Cinco de Mayo, particularly in the United States. As one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the country, Mexican-Americans have actively promoted and preserved their cultural heritage, including the observance of this important holiday.


Since the 19th century, when Mexican immigrants began to settle in the United States, they brought with them their rich traditions and customs. Over time, these traditions merged with American culture, creating a distinct and vibrant Mexican-American identity.


The Mexican-American community’s influence on the celebration of Cinco de Mayo can be seen in the various festivities and events organized throughout the country. Mexican-American organizations, community centers, and schools often take the lead in planning and hosting parades, cultural exhibitions, dance performances, and musical concerts.


Through these events, the Mexican-American community aims to promote Mexican culture, educate others about the history and significance of Cinco de Mayo, and create opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come together and learn from one another.


Furthermore, Mexican-American cuisine, known for its bold flavors and delicious dishes, has become an integral part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Traditional Mexican foods such as tacos, enchiladas, guacamole, and margaritas are enjoyed by people of all backgrounds during the holiday. Mexican-American-owned restaurants and food vendors also play a crucial role in introducing a wider audience to the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine.


In recent years, the Mexican-American community has also utilized the power of social media and digital platforms to spread awareness and engage a larger audience in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Through online campaigns, live streams, and virtual events, Mexican-Americans have been able to connect with individuals from around the world, sharing their culture, traditions, and stories.


The influence of the Mexican-American community extends beyond the annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Mexican-American artists, musicians, and filmmakers have made significant contributions to the cultural landscape, incorporating their heritage into their art and showcasing it to a global audience. Their creativity and talent have helped to further popularize Mexican culture and create a sense of pride among Mexican-Americans.


Overall, the influence of the Mexican-American community on the celebration of Cinco de Mayo cannot be overstated. Their efforts in preserving and promoting Mexican culture have ensured that the holiday continues to be celebrated with enthusiasm and appreciation, not only among Mexican-Americans but by people of diverse backgrounds who have come to embrace and enjoy the richness of Mexican traditions.


Commercialization and Modern Celebrations

Over the years, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo has evolved and become increasingly commercialized, particularly in the United States. What was once a relatively localized commemoration of Mexican history has transformed into a widely recognized holiday marked by various commercial activities, marketing campaigns, and consumer products.


Retailers, restaurants, and businesses often capitalize on the popularity of Cinco de Mayo to attract customers and boost sales. Special promotions, discounts, and themed events are common during this time of the year. They offer an opportunity for people to enjoy Mexican-inspired food, drinks, and entertainment.


Cinco de Mayo has also become a platform for companies to showcase their products through targeted marketing campaigns. Advertisements featuring Mexican motifs, colors, and symbols are prevalent, ranging from food and beverages to clothing, home decor, and travel deals.


While commercialization has brought Cinco de Mayo into the mainstream and increased its visibility, it has also sparked debates about cultural appropriation and the dilution of the holiday’s significance. Some argue that the focus on festive activities and consumerism overshadow the historical and cultural aspects of the holiday, reducing it to superficial celebrations.


Despite these concerns, many communities continue to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with genuine appreciation for Mexican culture. Festivities often include parades, concerts, traditional dances, and live music performances. Educational events and presentations are organized to provide historical context and raise awareness about the significance of the holiday.


In recent years, there has been a growing movement to reclaim the authentic meaning and purpose of Cinco de Mayo. Community organizations and cultural institutions strive to promote a deeper understanding of Mexican history and heritage during the holiday. They emphasize the importance of respecting and honoring the struggles and achievements of the Mexican people while enjoying the festivities.


Modern celebrations of Cinco de Mayo also serve as a platform to highlight and support Mexican-American artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Cultural festivals and art exhibits provide opportunities for these individuals to showcase their talent and contribute to the vibrant celebration of Mexican culture.


Overall, as Cinco de Mayo has become more commercialized, it is essential to remember the historical significance behind the holiday and to celebrate it in a way that respects Mexican heritage. Balancing the festive spirit and cultural appreciation can ensure that the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo is preserved while also embracing the joy and unity that come with it.


Misconceptions and Controversies

Despite its widespread popularity, Cinco de Mayo has been subject to various misconceptions and controversies. These have arisen due to a lack of understanding or misinterpretation of the holiday’s history and purpose, as well as the commercialization and cultural appropriation that have become associated with it.


One common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. In reality, Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla and is a regional holiday primarily observed in the state of Puebla itself, rather than across the entire country.


Additionally, there has been appropriation and misrepresentation of Mexican culture during Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Some individuals may engage in caricatures or stereotypes of Mexican culture, such as wearing sombreros and mustaches, without understanding or respecting the historical significance of the holiday. This can undermine the cultural heritage that Cinco de Mayo aims to celebrate.


In recent years, there have also been debates around the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo and the commodification of Mexican culture. Critics argue that the emphasis on consuming Mexican food, drinks, and merchandise during the holiday can overshadow the historical context and significance of the Battle of Puebla. This raises concerns about cultural appropriation and the reduction of a meaningful holiday to mere marketing and partying.


Furthermore, there have been controversies surrounding the misrepresentation of Mexican history in educational curricula and media portrayals. Some textbooks and media platforms may inaccurately depict the Battle of Puebla or diminish its importance, leading to a distorted understanding of the holiday.


It is crucial to recognize and address these misconceptions and controversies surrounding Cinco de Mayo. Observing the holiday with respect for its historical context, honoring the Mexican heritage and achievements it represents, and promoting cultural understanding can help dispel inaccuracies and stereotypes.


Efforts to educate people about the true significance of Cinco de Mayo, including its historical context and cultural significance, are key in combatting misconceptions and fostering a more accurate appreciation of the holiday. Encouraging open dialogue, promoting authentic cultural representations, and supporting initiatives that highlight the contributions of Mexican-Americans can also help counteract the negative aspects associated with Cinco de Mayo.


By addressing misconceptions and controversies, we can ensure that the celebration of Cinco de Mayo remains true to its origins and serves as a means to honor the history, resilience, and cultural heritage of the Mexican people.



Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that commemorates the Battle of Puebla, holds historical significance for Mexico and has gained recognition and celebration worldwide. While it has faced misconceptions, commercialization, and cultural controversies, the essence of the holiday lies in honoring the resilience, unity, and cultural heritage of the Mexican people.


The Battle of Puebla showcased the indomitable spirit of the Mexican army against the powerful French forces, and its commemoration on Cinco de Mayo serves as a reminder of the courage and determination exhibited in the face of adversity. It is a symbol of Mexican resistance and a source of national pride.


Through the influence of the Mexican-American community, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo has spread beyond Mexico’s borders and become a multicultural celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Mexican-Americans have played a vital role in preserving and promoting the holiday, organizing vibrant festivities and sharing their traditions with others.


However, as Cinco de Mayo became more widely celebrated, it also became subject to controversy and misconceptions. Cultural appropriation, commercialization, and misrepresentation have led to concerns about diluting the true meaning of the holiday. It is essential to address these issues and promote authentic understanding and appreciation of Mexican history and customs.


By educating about the historical context of Cinco de Mayo and fostering cultural respect, the holiday can be celebrated in a way that acknowledges the achievements and struggles of the Mexican people. Embracing the unity and diversity that the holiday represents is crucial in preserving its true essence.


As we continue to recognize and celebrate Cinco de Mayo, it is important to remember that behind the parades, parties, and cultural festivities, lies a powerful story of resilience and heritage. By understanding and honoring the historical significance of the Battle of Puebla and the contributions of Mexican-Americans, we can ensure that Cinco de Mayo remains a meaningful and inclusive celebration for generations to come.