Cinco de Mayo is a popular holiday among people who enjoy Mexican food and drinks, but this day is often mistaken as Mexico’s Independence Day.
The Battle of Puebla, also known as Cinco de Mayo, actually happened more than 50 years after the declaration of Mexico’s independence.
Is Cinco de Mayo the Mexican Independence Day?
Ix-Nic Iruegas, Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute
No, Mexico’s Independence Day is on Sept. 16. Mexico gained independence more than 50 years before the Battle of Puebla, which is where Cinco de Mayo originated.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the Smithsonian, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, which happened on May 5, 1862. Mexico’s independence day was Sept. 16, 1810.
The Battle of Puebla took place after France invaded Mexico in response to Mexican President Benito Juarez’s decision to suspend payment of all foreign debts.
“The Mexican soldiers were outnumbered 2 to 1 by the better-equipped French army, yet the Mexicans crushed the French in the town of Puebla,” the Smithsonian website says.
Ix-Nic Iruegas, Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. told us that Cinco de Mayo it’s also considered to be one of the most important events that helped solidify the Mexican national idea, “because this happened after the declaration of independence, so it is considered a ‘second independence.’”
Iruegas said that within Mexico, the holiday is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred.
“It's a holiday for all of us, kids don't go to school, some offices don't have their workers there to work on that day. But it’s not actually a party,” she said.
The city of Austin, Texas explains in an article that Cinco de Mayo wasn’t widely celebrated in the U.S. until the 1960s when Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday, “in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla.”
This celebration of Mexican heritage has been adopted across the United States with parades, parties, music, Mexican folk dance, traditional food, and marketing campaigns — and not just in communities with Latino populations.
The actual beginnings of the Cinco de Mayo in the United States could date back to 1862, according to Iruegas.
“The Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated in the United States immediately after the battle in 1862. And then in ’63, it gained more prominence, and this is connected to the time after California joined the union, as the United States became interested in how the Mexicans defeated the French, a much powerful army back then,” Iruegas said.
Britannica claims this holiday didn’t reach a broader demographic “until it was linked with the promotion of Mexican alcoholic beverages that many American festivities tended to both perpetuate negative stereotypes of Mexicans and promote excessive drinking.”
According to History.com, the largest festivals for this holiday in the United States happen in the cities of Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
Go ahead and enjoy your tacos and margaritas today — just remember you’re not celebrating the independence of Mexico, but another battle that happened many years afterward and that helped Mexico become the nation it is today.