Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo
Battle of Puebla
Observed by Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and people of non-Mexican heritage
Type Historical, national, ethnic, and cultural
Significance Celebration of the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862
Date May 5
Celebrations Parades, food, music, folkloric dancing, battle reenactments
Related to El Día de la Batalla de Puebla

Cinco de Mayo in Latin America, Spanish for "Fifth of May") is an annual celebration held on May 5. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. In Mexico, the commemoration of the battle continues to be mostly ceremonial, such as through military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla marks the event with an arts festival, a festival of local cuisine, and re-enactments of the battle.

In the United States in particular, as well as other countries worldwide, Cinco de Mayo has become associated with celebration of Mexican-American culture.

Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16, commemorating the Cry of Dolores, which initiated the war of Mexican independence from Spain.

History of the holiday in Mexico

Anonymous painting depicting the Battle of Puebla in 1862, located at the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones.

Cinco de Mayo is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza.[1]

On May 9, 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday regarded as "Battle of Puebla Day" or "Battle of Cinco de Mayo."[2]

Events leading to the Battle of Puebla

Cinco de Mayo has its roots in the Second French intervention in Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the 1846–1848 Mexican–American War and the 1858–1861 Reform War. The Reform War was a civil war that pitted Liberals (who believed in separation of church and state, and freedom of religion) against Conservatives (who favored a tight bond between the Catholic Church and the Mexican state).[3] These wars nearly bankrupted the Mexican Treasury. On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium suspending payments on all foreign debts for two years.[4] In response, Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, at the time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish an empire in Mexico that would favor French interests, the Second Mexican Empire. The empire was part of an envisioned "Latin America" (term used to imply cultural kinship of the region with France) that would rebuild French influence in the American continent and exclude Anglophone American territories.

French invasion and Mexican victory

The former Forts of Guadalupe and Loreto now house a museum.

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet attacked Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat. Moving on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans close to Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The larger and well-equipped French army attacked the smaller poorly equipped Mexican army. The numbers of soldiers on each side is somewhat disputed, with the traditional version being a French army of 6-8,000 against 4,500 Mexicans.[3] Some French sources state the size of the Mexican force was 12,000 men, while the French army numbered only 7,000.[5] Hayes-Batista clarifies that after the smaller Mexican force had defeated the French on May 5, they received reinforcements on May 6 and 7 of approximately 12,000 additional Mexican soldiers.[6] The Mexicans decisively defeated the French army. This victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large and helped establish a sense of national pride and patriotism.[7]

Events after the battle

The Mexican victory, however, was short-lived. A year later, with 30,000 troops, the French were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and install Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico. The French victory was itself short-lived, lasting only three years, from 1864 to 1867.[4] Upon the conclusion of the American Civil War, Napoleon III, facing a persistent Mexican guerilla resistance, the threat of war with Prussia, and "the prospect of a serious scrap with the United States," retreated from Mexico starting in 1866.[8] The Mexicans recaptured Mexico City, and Maximilian I was apprehended and executed, along with his Mexican generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía Camacho in Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro. On June 5, 1867, Benito Juárez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a new government and reorganized his administration.[4]


"May 5, 1862 and the siege of Puebla," a 1901 image from the Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano, a series of booklets for children detailing the history of Mexico.

The Battle of Puebla was significant, both nationally and internationally, for several reasons.[9] The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger and better-equipped French army was a boost to morale for the Mexicans. Historian Justo Sierra has suggested that, had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France would have gone to the aid of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War and the United States' destiny would have been very different.[10]

Celebrations today

Today, the commemoration of the battle is not observed as a national holiday in Mexico. However, all public schools are closed nationwide. The day is an official holiday in the State of Puebla, where the Battle took place, and also a full holiday in the neighboring State of Veracruz.

In Puebla, historical reenactments, parades, and meals take place to commemorate the battle. Parade participants dress as French and Mexican soldiers to reenact the battle. Every year the city also hosts the Festival Internacional de Puebla, which gathers national and international artists, traditional musicians and dancers. As well as the Festival Internacional del Mole, with an emphasis on the city's iconic mole poblano.[11]

In Mexico City, military commemoration is held at the Campo Marte.[12] the Historic Center of Mexico City the street Avenida Cinco de Mayo was named in honor of the battle.

United States

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. More popularly celebrated in the United States than Mexico, the date has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture.[13]

Cinco de Mayo performers at the White House

The modern American focus on Cinco de Mayo first started in California in 1863 in response to the resistance to French rule in Mexico.[14] On hearing the news of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, "Far up in the gold country town of Columbia (now Columbia State Park) Mexican miners were so overjoyed at the news that they spontaneously fired off rifle shots and fireworks, sang patriotic songs and made impromptu speeches."[15]

Cinco de Mayo started to come into vogue in 1940s America during the rise of the Chicano Movement. The holiday crossed over from California into the rest of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s but did not gain popularity until the 1980s when marketers, especially beer companies, saw the opportunity in the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it.[16] It grew in popularity and evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, first in areas with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York City, and then spreading throughout the country.

Cinco de Mayo celebration in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Los Angeles' Fiesta Broadway has been billed as the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world in the 1990s, attracting crowds of 500,000 or more.[17] By 2006, the number of official Cinco de Mayo events was 150 or more.[18]

On June 7, 2005, the United States Congress issued a concurrent resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities.[19] 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 Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing. Examples include baile folklórico and mariachi demonstrations held annually at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Ángeles, near Olvera Street. Commercial interests in the United States have capitalized on the celebration, advertising Mexican products and services, with an emphasis on alcoholic beverages, foods, and music.[20]


Events tied to Cinco de Mayo also occur outside Mexico and the United States. As in the United States, celebrations elsewhere also emphasize Mexican cuisine, culture and music. For example, some Canadian pubs play Mexican music and serve Mexican food and drink. Brisbane, Australia, holds an annual Mexican Festival to honor the day;[21] and celebrations are held in New Zealand,[22] London,[23] Cape Town, South Africa,[24] and in Paris.[25] Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Japan in Tokyo and Osaka as a multicultural appreciation of Mexican and other Western cuisine and a chance for music and fun.[26]

Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16, commemorating the Cry of Dolores, which initiated the war of Mexican independence from Spain.[27]


  1. Recognizing the Significance of Cinco de Mayo Congressional Record Vol. 155, No. 67 (House of Representatives), May 4, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  2. Tony Burton, Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated in USA than Mexico MexConnect, May 1, 2006. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Christopher Minster, Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla ThoughtCo, April 9, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 May Herz, Cinco de Mayo Inside Mexico, April 27, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  5. The Cinco de Mayo and French Imperialism Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  6. David Hayes-Bautista, El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition (University of California Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0520272132), 80.
  7. Ignacio González, The Significance of "Cinco de Mayo", 1996. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  8. Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley (eds.), The Oxford History of Mexico (Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0199731985).
  9. Jose Antonio Burciaga, Mexico's Lasting European Influence Banderas News, May 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  10. Justo Sierra, The Political Evolution of the Mexican People (University of Texas Press, 1976, ISBN 978-0292700710).
  11. Talia Avakian, How people actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico Business Insider, April 30, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  12. Peña Nieto no estará en Puebla para desfile del 5 de Mayo; conmemora Batalla en Campo Marte SDP Noticias, May 5, 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  13. Brian Greene, Why is Cinco de Mayo More Popular in America Than in Mexico? US News & World Report, May 4, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  14. Brianna Moné, 10 ways Cinco de Mayo is celebrated differently in the US and Mexico Insider, April 30, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  15. Mark Truppner, Columbia, CA: Birthplace Of Cinco De Mayo Celebrations, May 5, 2017. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  16. Cinco de Mayo minor holiday in Mexico UPI, May 5, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  17. John Canaliz, L.A. hosts nation's biggest Cinco de Mayo party UPI, April 26, 1992. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  18. Stefan Lovgren, Cinco de Mayo History: From Bloodshed to Beer Fest National Geographic, May 6, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  19. H.Con.Res.44 - Recognizing the historical significance of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo 109th Congress (2005-2006), Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  20. Courtney Kane, Marketers extend their holiday efforts to a Mexican celebration and even to Lent The New York Times, May 2, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  21. Cinco de Mayo Riverlife Brisbane. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  22. Leonora Rueda, Mexicans to celebrate Cinco De Mayo Stuff, May 04 2012.
  23. Dean Nicholas, Where To Celebrate Cinco De Mayo In London Londonist, May 3, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  24. Kayli Vee, Cinco de Mayo at The Office Food Blog Cape Town, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  25. El cinco de mayo – Paris SoonNight, May 5, 2011. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  26. Cinco de Mayo Celebration in Japan? Osaka Japanese Bistro, April 30, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  27. El Grito de Dolores ("Cry of/from Dolores") Library of Congress, September 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hayes-Bautista, David. El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition. University of California Press, 2012. 978-0520272132
  • Meyer, Michael C., and William H. Beezley (eds.). The Oxford History of Mexico. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0199731985
  • Sierra, Justo. The Political Evolution of the Mexican People. University of Texas Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0292700710

External links

All links retrieved December 10, 2023.


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