Cinco De Mayo

April 29th, 2021

Although Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. This is particularly true in areas with large Mexican-American populations. This holiday celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War on May 5, 1862. Cinco de Mayo commemorates a single battle, the Battle of Puebla, and contrary to the popular misconception it is not the same thing as Mexican Independence Day, which is actually celebrated on September 16th and was established 50 years before this battle even took place.


In 1861, Benito Juárez was elected as president of Mexico. This was at a time when the country was in financial ruins after years of internal strife. As a result, the new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments. In response to this default, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz demanding repayment. However, by April 1862 they were able to negotiate and come to a decision that suited all parties, and as a result, they withdrew their forces. Napoleon III, the ruler of France at the time, however, had other thoughts in mind. He decided that this was a prime opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory and to hopefully suppress the power that the United States had in North America. France was certain that it would win this battle. There were 6,000 troops, led under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, sent out by the French to attack Puebla de Los Angeles. On the opposing side of the battle, Juárez rounded up 2,000 loyal men, many of whom were either Indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry, and sent them to Puebla.

The Mexicans, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, were vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied, however, they fortified the town and prepared for the assault that came from Lorencez’s army, which was supported by heavy artillery, on  May 5, 1862. This battle was one that lasted from daybreak to early evening when the French ended up having to retreat, after losing approximately 500 to 1,000 troops in the battle. The Mexicans ended up losing fewer than 100 soldiers in this battle. Although this win was not a major victory in the French war overall, since the French were not driven out for another five years, it did nevertheless represent a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement. The French ended up withdrawing in 1867 after the United States came in with its military support and political pressure.

The Celebrations Today

In Mexico, the main celebrations take place in Puebla, the city in which this unexpected victory took place. There is a museum in the city that is devoted to the battle and the actual battlefield itself is maintained as a park. Traditions include military parades, speeches, recreations of the Battle of Puebla, and other festive events. However, for many Mexicans, May 5th is a day like any other. This is due to the fact that it is not a federal holiday, and as a result offices, banks, and stores remain open. That being said, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely seen as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. It was first celebrated in the United States in 1863 in Southern California, and by the 1930s the celebration grew to be more inclusive. Today, it is celebrated with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano, with some of the largest festivals being held in cities such as Chicago, Denver, Portland, Seattle, St. Paul, and so on. 

To learn more about Cinco de Mayo you can visit the following websites: