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Why Cinco de Mayo Matters and Why Is It Celebrated in the US?

To begin with, Mexico didn’t gain its independence on this date. Similar to the United States’s July 4, many mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo carries the same importance for Mexico. But, why then is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Mexico, and in a broader context in the United States, despite not being a National Day or an official holiday?

But, why then is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Mexico, and in a broader context in the United States, despite not being a National Day or an official holiday?Image by freepik

 

 

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How is Cinco de Mayo translated into English?

It is Spanish for “Fifth of May”. In general, it holds great importance as a day to honor the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla.

 

When will it be in 2024?

As the date implies, Cinco de Mayo falls on May 5, which means this year lands on a Sunday. Contrary to common belief, it’s not a holiday and businesses will be open during regular hours.

 

How did May 5th become a special day worth celebrating?

The story goes back to Mexico, under President Juarez, who was trying to rebuild the country after years of instability in the early 1860s. To deal with large foreign debts, payments were suspended, and that angered European countries. This led to an invasion by European forces, among them France, Spain, and England. The first had further ambitions and aimed to colonize Mexico. In the meantime, the United States faced a tough situation. It opposed European colonization efforts in the Americas as per the Monroe Doctrine. However, being in the middle of the Civil War limited its ability to act. By April 1862, only France was left, with plans to set up a monarchy in Mexico to reduce US influence in the region.

The story goes back to Mexico, under President Juarez.Image by freepik

On May 5th, the Mexican army under General Zaragoza, despite being outnumbered and facing better-equipped troops, defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. Though the war continued, this victory became a symbol of Mexican resilience and patriotism. The city was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza and a museum now remembers such battle. In spite of this symbolic Mexican victory, the US remained cautious due to the ongoing Civil War.

Cinco de Mayo means an important but early victory for Mexico in the Battle of Puebla against French forces. Even though it’s neither Mexican Independence Day, which falls on Sept 16th, nor is it the final victory over the French, which occurred in 1867.

 

What cultural traditions form part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations?

As it is a date to remember such a famous battle, festivities in Mexico take place in the southern town of Puebla. The rest of the country observes it more casually. And then, you may ask, why is Cinco de Mayo widely celebrated in the United States? The reason is that it became a much bigger deal as Mexican-American communities wanted to celebrate their cultural diversity.

It’s a day to honor the heritage, accomplishments, and everyday experiences of people with Mexican roots. There’s a big commercial side to the festivities, with businesses promoting Mexican products, especially food, drinks, and music. But Cinco de Mayo also highlights traditional symbols, like the Virgin of Guadalupe, and successful Mexican-Americans who’ve made a name for themselves in the Americas.

The biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations happen in the southwestern United States, in cities with large Mexican American populations like Los Angeles, San Jose, and Denver. People decorate with banners, and schools hold lessons and events to teach students about such a rich culture. Some areas, like Los Angeles’  Pueblotdistrict, have celebrations focused on traditional Mexican music and dance.

 

Why did they embrace Cinco de Mayo in the United States?

Did you know that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more extensively and with greater popularity in the United States compared to Mexico? That’s because it was created by Latin communities there. It focuses more on Latino heritage and culture within the US, rather than Mexican history itself. And don’t get me wrong, the actual battle holds great importance in Mexico’s past. But Cinco de Mayo’s meaning shifted as it became an American tradition.

When the underdog Mexican army defeated a mighty European force like France, Latinos in California saw it as a beacon of hope for democratic ideals across the Americas. They weren’t just cheering for Mexico’s victory at Puebla, they suggested that a victory over the Confederacy was possible. This also included the fight against slavery brewing in the US Civil War. This community had its own stake in the outcome. The fear of a Confederate win or California becoming a slave state made them worry about losing their rights and citizenship. This made them act and create Mexican patriotic groups that came together. These groups got involved in backing the Union and opposing French control in Mexico, joining a bigger fight for freedom and democracy.

Early celebrations of May 5th in Los Angeles by Latinos were a display of unity. Parades featured both Mexican and US flags, reflecting a shared fight for freedom. References and portrayals of Mexican and South American heroes like Juarez, Hidalgo, and Bolivar were common, but so were those of American heroes like Washington and Lincoln. These inclusions showed Cinco de Mayo as part of a larger fight against oppression in the Americas.

 

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