All You Need to Know About… Cinco de Mayo


Cinco de Mayo

Aubree Peterson-Spanard, Writer

On Saturday America celebrated Mexican culture with parades, parties, traditional foods, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and more. Some people celebrated early, like the Spanish classes here at Obama, each of which had its own fiesta with food and music. But why do we do this? I mean, what’s so special about the 5th of May that we made it a national holiday? Most people don’t know the answer to this, but now you’re about to find out! Here it is:

It all started in 1861 when a man named Benito Juárez was elected Mexico’s president. The country was in financial ruin and the debts to Britain, Spain, and France grew as an effect. The former two negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their threatening troops from Veracruz. But France, ruled by Napoleon III at the time, decided to make an empire out of Mexican territory. A heavily armed French fleet with a large amount of troops landed at Veracruz in late 1861 and drove the President and his government into retreat.

Believing they would win easily, French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez led 6,000 troops in an attack on Puebla de Los Angeles. President Juárez, now stationed in the north, gathered up 2,000 loyal men and sent them to defend the small town in eastern-central Mexico. The ragtag force, led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, was poorly supplied and vastly outnumbered. Yet they willingly fortified the town and prepared for the French attack.

So on May 5, 1862, General Lorencez rounded up his troops and attacked the city of Puebla from daybreak to early evening. In the end, the French retreated. They had lost almost 500 soldiers in the battle, compared to the less than 100 Mexicans who had lost their lives. It was more of a symbolic victory than a strategic one, but it bolstered the Mexican moral and their resistance movement. And so, in 1867 – thanks in part to the United States’s political pressure and military support – France finally withdrew its forces. The city of Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed for its defender General Zaragoza, who died of typhoid fever a few months after his historic victory there.

It’s strange to know that, after all that, the country as a whole doesn’t see Cinco de Mayo as a national holiday. Various places around Mexico do celebrate it, and of course the biggest is in the state of Puebla where the battle occurred. Its festivities include parades, recreations of the battle, and other activities.

And then when you look to the U.S., we see it as a full-fledged holiday, where banks, stores, and offices are closed early and/or fully. We love celebrating Mexican culture (especially with food!) on this day, yet most of us don’t know the actual events that took place for it to happen. In fact, many people mistake Cinco de Mayo as Mexico’s Independence Day or the Day of the Dead. But their independence day was September 16th in 1810, more than 50 years before the battle of Puebla. Meanwhile, Dia de Los Muertos is observed from October 31-November 2. Now you know the history of the 5th of May and its importance. Make sure to spread the word!