Cinco de Mayo: A Mexican Holiday Celebrated Only in the US?

Avatar of Mauricio Sierra

The celebration “Cinco de Mayo” (May 5) has always brought up many conflicting issues for me. I am an immigrant from Mexico. I was born in a small state in the center of the Republic known as Queretaro. I moved to Berkeley in 2009, then I moved back to Mexico in 2014, and back here in 2019. During the years I’ve lived here I always noticed something very peculiar: Cinco de Mayo was always celebrated here in the US, yet it received very little attention in the place where it occurred. Why is that?

First, we need to understand what exactly happened on that date. On May 5, 1862, in the “Batalla de Puebla” (Battle of Puebla), the under-equipped and under-prepared Mexican army faced the much better prepared French army and succeeded in defeating the foreign power in battle. The battle occurred because, at that time, Mexico found itself in bankruptcy and Interim President Benito Juarez decided that they would simply stop paying their foreign debt for two years. 

This news alarmed the countries who had lent money to Mexico: France, Britain and Spain. When they heard of the news, they organized the Convention of London and decided to send armies to Mexico to oblige them to pay their debt. France, who Mexico ironically owed the least, decided to send a fleet to Mexico in order to invade it and create a European-inclined monarchy, under the directions of Napoleon III. The French arrived in Veracruz and marched toward Puebla, where they were met with close to 2,000 soldiers and 2,700 farmers sent to defend the country, using machetes and spears made out of wood with metal tips, against the French’s 3,000 man army, equipped with guns and canons. Once the Mexican army succeeded, the reports were sent back to the president and it made national headlines. Although they won that battle, the French came back and successfully invaded after a second try — but that’s a different story. 

This glorious victory came to be known as the celebration that all of Mexico knows about. Back in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is treated as a national holiday, meaning schools get a day off and people don’t work that day, but that’s about it. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is commemorated as opposed to celebrated. People don’t party or have huge celebrations; it is just treated as if it were any other day. The most popular celebration in Mexico is Independence Day, which is celebrated annually on September 16 and commemorates when Mexico gained sovereignty from Spain on September 16, 1821. In the US, Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo much more than Mexicans. 

Here, I’ve seen non-Mexican people decorate their houses with the colors of the Mexican flag, drink tequila, listen to stereotypical Mexican music, and basically get drunk over a historical event that doesn’t involve them. It has always amused me how non-Mexicans enjoy celebrating a holiday that many of them don’t have a clue about. I think it’s wonderful that people celebrate these holidays, but I think that they should probably first do some investigating and ask themselves what the celebration is about before deciding to actually partake in it.