Cinco de Mayo

Posted on May 5, 2007. Filed under: Holidays & Festivals |

Here’s the 411 on Cinco de Mayo according to

Cinco de Mayo (“The Fifth of May” in Spanish) is a national, but not federal, holiday in Mexico which is also widely celebrated in the United States. It commemorates the victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin over the French occupational forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

A common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16th (“Dieciseis de septiembre” in Spanish).


“Cinco de Mayo” is celebrated vigorously in Puebla, Puebla, Mexico, where the battle was fought, however there are observances throughout Mexico of varying degrees. For the most part the celebrations combine food, drink, music and dancing.

United States

In the United States Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origins, particularly along the southern border states where there is a large Hispanic population. Although it is no more an officially recognized holiday than St. Patrick’s Day or May Day in the United States, many cities with large Hispanic populations honor the day as a symbolic representation of Hispanic pride and as a representation of a culture that blends both Mexican and American roots. Celebrations tend to draw both from traditional Mexican symbols, such as the Virgin de Guadalupe, as well as prominent figures of Mexican descent in the United States, such as Cesar Chavez. The National Cinco de Mayo Festival is held every year in Washington, DC, hosted by the Maru Montero Dance Company.

The reference to the Battle of Puebla is seen as a symbolic cultural link to those who had to overcome insurmountable odds while facing adversity. In neighborhoods such as East Los Angeles, the Mission District of San Francisco, East San Jose and elsewhere throughout the Southwest, Cinco de Mayo is most accurately characterized as a day of celebration to honor a culture that fuses Mexican heritage and American life experience. To celebrate, many display Cinco de Mayo banners while school districts hold special events to educate students about its historical significance. Special events and celebrations highlight the Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing. Examples include ballet folklórico and mariachi demonstrations held annually at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles near Olvera Street.

Commercial interests in the United States have capitalized on the celebration advertising Mexican products and services with an emphasis on foods, beverages, and music. While this commercialism has led some Hispanics to regard Cinco de Mayo as essentially a commercial contrivance rather than an authentically Mexican event, the date is perhaps best recognized in North America as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican descent, much like St. Patrick’s Day or Oktoberfest being used to celebrate those of Irish and German descent, respectively.


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