Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why the United States Should Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Judging by some of the comments I have seen being left on a FB page about who does/does not celebrate Cince de Mayo and why, I realized that many don't truly understand the significance of this day.

So for those of you who don't really know what all the hoopla is about, here is a brief history on Cinco de Mayo and why I, for one, celebrate this holiday.

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is NOT the Mexican Independence Day. Instead, this holiday commemorates the victory of a small Mexican army (estimated to be around 2,000 soldiers) over the French forces, which were considered to be the best army in the world at the time. This is known as the Battle of Puebla, and it occurred on May 5th, 1862.

Let me give you a little bit of background information:

In 1861, Mexico's treasury (and government) was in shambles after years of wars: the Mexican-American War in 1846-48; the Mexican Civil War in 1858; and the 1860 Reform Wars.

General Zaragoza
So in an attempt to begin rebuilding the country, Presidente Benito Juárez issued a two-year moratorium on all foreign debts (he planned to resume payments to the foreign lenders in 1863). But naturally France, Britain, and Spain, did not look too kindly on this and they each sent troops over to Veracruz to demand their money. Juárez negotiated with Britain and Spain, but the French forces forced Juárez and the government to flee. They then began their march towards Mexico City, but encountered a small army in Puebla under the direction of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.

At this time, Napoleon III (not Napoleon Bonaparte!) was the emperor of France and he saw this as an opportunity to establish a French empire in the Americas.

It is incredibly important that people understand that the U. S. Civil War was happening at the exact same time. Napoleon's plan was to spend a few months invading and conquering Mexico, and then use the country as a base for supplying the Confederate rebels with supplies and weapons to help them win the war. 

Had the brave men and women of Puebla not decided to take a stand against such overwhelming odds - and won! - the outcome of the U. S. Civil War could have been drastically different. And it is for this reason alone, that I personally think that Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated in the United States.

Should it be celebrated in Mexico? Not really. Although this victory was a much needed morale booster for the people and government, Napoleon returned the following year with an army of 30,000 and captured Mexico City, establishing Emperor Maximiliano I as ruler. (You might remember him or his wife, Carlotta, to whom we owe a word of thanks for giving "birth," so to speak, to the tradition of cascarones!)

But his reign was short-lived as, incidentally, after the U.S. Civil War was over, the U.S. provided support to Mexico to expel the French. They were not stupid and had feared France's support of the Confederacy during the war. Afterwards, they were quick to help Mexico give them the boot!

I think that President Lincoln would have wholeheartedly celebrated Cinco de Mayo, don't you?

If you'd like to teach this to your students or children, be sure to check out my printable resources on TpT or here on MM in my digital downloads shop!

Con mucho cariño...


  1. Monica thank you for taking the time to enlighten us on this history. You are a good maestra;)

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  3. And, after the US helped Mexico boot out France (don't think I knew this) when did the US invade Mexico and take over their land in what is now New Mexico and other states surrounding it?? Or did I get this wrong? Just wondering.

  4. Hi, Elisa. Thanks for your question. I'm glad to help everyone understand the history correctly.

    To answer your question, this actually happened PRIOR to the Battle of Hidalgo, in 1848 under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when Mexico ceded much of its northern holdings to bring an end to the Mexican-American War that I mentioned above.

    You can read all about New Mexico's fascinating history here:

  5. Oops. That should read "Battle of Puebla." Sorry! Was in a rush.

  6. Thanks for this article, Monica! I admit, I was one of those people who viewed Cinco de Mayo as just as an excuse for americanos to get drunk, thinking they were celebrating Mexican Independence Day. But I never realized it was an event that took place at the same time as the American Civil War. That does change my opinion. -Elisa from MotherTalkers.com

  7. I'm glad you're focusing on the real history of this event since it's been washed out of significance by the way it is celebrated. We don't celebrate it as a holiday, but we do love all the cultural events that are put together thanks to it.

  8. gracias for the great info!

  9. Yay! Elisa, you made my day. My whole reason for writing this was so people would know what the point was in celebrating Cinco de Mayo. And I think most people haven't got a clue!!!

    Blanca, Ana, and Julie - De nada!!

  10. This was such an excellent history lesson, Monica! Mil gracias! While I knew bits and pieces, I wasn't really aware of all the details you've explained here.

    I can totally see why you would celebrate this day for its importance within American history, what I have a problem with is how some Americans claim that this is such an important day for Mexicans whether they're in this country or not. And, what pains me even more, is to see Mexican-Americans actually believe it.

    My local morning news had a chef from a Mexican restaurant making gorditas this morning and the anchor asked him something about the importance of this day for him and he answered by saying it was the most important day for Mexicans. What? I couldn't believe it and I was enraged by the ignorance of our own people...

  11. Ay, sí! But I feel so sorry for people like that because they don't really even know their own history - the American one AND the Mexican one. We are like sheep blindly following what everyone else is doing.

    And shame on our education system for not explaining it clearly to our children! Boo!!

  12. Wow! Excellent article! I really didn't know much about this holiday (they really should teach this when they teach the history re the civil war in the US!), and am so glad I found your beautifully written and concise article before I take on Wikipedia!
    Have you written one like this about el Dia de los Muertos? I'd love to read it!
    Thanks : )


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