Love for Mexico

The Meaning of Cinco de Mayo in Mexico and the US May 02 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is largely seen as an excuse to get together with friends and feast on tacos, guacamole, and margaritas, even though only 1 in 10 Americans know what Cinco de Mayo is actually about.

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

The Significance of Cinco de Mayo

Of course, anyone with connections to Mexico knows that Cinco de Mayo isn’t the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July – it’s not even a Mexican national holiday – and that it’s actually a celebration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on 5 May, 1862, that represents the capacity of the Mexican people to come together to defeat what was considered at the time the world’s most powerful army.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the city of Puebla with a huge parade along with battle reenactments, followed by music, dancing, and food. There’s also the Festival International 5 de Mayo, which lasts from 26 April through 12 May and features over 900 artists from nine different countries at 35 venues.

But why is Cinco de Mayo, which isn’t really commemorated much in Mexico except in Puebla, celebrated in the United States at all?

The Cinco de Mayo – U.S. Civil War Connection

Did you know that the first Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the States occurred in 1862, when Mexicans and other Latin Americans who had gone to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 were showing their support for the Union during the U.S. Civil War?

When Latin American countries won their independence from Spain, the new nations abolished slavery and provided citizenship to all people, regardless of race or social standing. So naturally, the Mexicans in California and elsewhere in the West were on the side of the Union in opposition to slavery during the U.S. Civil War. Plus, as people of color, many saw the prospect of a Confederate victory as a personal threat.

When news reports about the scrappy Mexicans’ defeat of the mighty French military reached them, they joined together in juntas patrióticas to not only celebrate the unlikely victory at Puebla but to also mobilize in support the Union war effort while denouncing the Confederacy, which was being supported by French Emperor Napoleon III.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Gringolandia

Although the original reason has become obscured by history, the tradition of celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Los Angeles has continued without interruption ever since 1862. And today, there are major festivals celebrating Mexican culture in many U.S. cities. These are some of the biggest ones:

So regardless of which side of the Rio Grande you’re on, there’s reason to celebrate the triumph of the little guy over the big and powerful, the vanquishing of slavery, and the vibrant food, dance, and musical traditions of Mexico – all at the same time. ¡Viva Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo celebration in Saint Paul, Minnesota
JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/