Cinco de Mayo is a popular time to party here in the U.S., but very few people know the reason for the celebration. Most people incorrectly believe May 5th is Mexico’s Independence Day. For Mexico, the Dia de Indpendencia is September 16 to commemorate when, in 1810, the revolt against the Spanish began. Since May is nowhere near September, and Cinco de Mayo is not a huge holiday in Mexico, the question is: why do Americans celebrate a holiday that they have no idea the origins of?
Americans were introduced to Cinco de Mayo in the 1960s, when chicano activists used the day to create an event around which Mexican-Americans could foster pride, especially in connection with the civil rights movements taking place at the time. Now, the holiday has become completely commercialized, mainly for the sale of beer (Cinco de Mayo is apparently the day on which the most beer is sold in the country, including St. Patrick’s Day and the Super Bowl).
According to History.com, Mexico’s President in 1861, Benito Juárez, was forced to default on loans from France, Britain, and Spain. These three European powers then sent naval forces to demand repayment. While Juárez was able to renegotiate with Britain and Spain, Napoleon III decided he’d like to add Mexico to his Empire; Juárez was forced to leave Veracruz after a French fleet stormed his government there in late 1861.
On May 5, 1862, Puebla de Los Angeles was attacked by 6,000 well armed French troops. Juárez had sent “a ragtag force” of 2,000 men, many indigenous or of mixed ancestry, to fortify the town. Despite being amazingly outnumbered and poorly supplied, the Mexican force were able to make the French retreat.