What We Celebrate on Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2014
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Cinco de Mayo has a reputation for being the “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day,” and while there is a lot of common ground in the partying, live music and boozing; there’s a lot more to it, folks.

Yes, there’s all the incredible food, the tequila, the Mariachi bands, the parades and the colorful decorations; but do we know what we’re celebrating? Or, according to a Jimmy Kimmel field report from last year, do we even know when it’s celebrated?


The holiday commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5th, 1862. It’s commonly mistaken with Mexico’s Independence Day, but Mexico had already been independent for over 50 years by then. The victory was against Napoleon III and his French troops; they had invaded the country a year earlier in an attempt to take over and establish a monarchy.

The attack wasn’t unwarranted, sure, as Mexico’s recent civil war had left the country unable to pay their foreign debt, and after being told they weren’t getting their money back, their much more powerful European creditors weren’t extremely happy about it. While Spain and England eventually cut their losses and went their own way, the French were on a mission to conquer Mexico and challenge the United States’ power in North America.

What We Celebrate on Cinco de Mayo

That would partly explain why it’s still such a big deal in the States, because you see, in Mexico – other than in Puebla, where it actually happened – the date has lost a lot of importance through the years, and September 16th (the actual Independence Day) is a much more relevant day for most people. For some reason, though, Cinco de Mayo really stuck in the American areas with a big Mexican population.

Everyone loves a good underdog story. General Ignacio Zaragoza led an outnumbered and poorly equipped army to an unlikely victory that day, over the much-favored French forces. For those Americans with racist, enraged feelings against their south of the border neighbors, here’s an analogy to warm your hearts: Think of them as a darker, adult version of the Bad News Bears. I firmly believe not even a Minuteman can root against that!

I feel by now the holiday is mostly about being Mexican and proud of it. Not to take away its historical importance, but at least that seems to be the current general feeling in the United States. It celebrates the culture of one of the most important and influential immigrant groups in American history, and that’s definitely a big deal on its own.

My guess is most people don’t really know what happened on May 5th, or why it’s being celebrated, but like everything in the world, you can probably get used to anything that involves having a taco and a Dos Equis at hand.

Americans’ main source of pride has always been freedom. With that in mind, could there be anything more American than taking a day off to get wasted, eat delicious things and make questionable decisions that we can blame on the craziness of Cinco? If we don’t do it, the terrorists win.

If you’re asking yourself which terrorists, you’re clearly over-thinking it. Now, get out there, add more mole to your enchilada and down that tequila shot. Trust me, that’s what General Zaragoza would do.

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