What is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. As part of the Franco-Mexican war (1861-1867), French forces tried to occupy the city of Puebla, which is about 100 miles east of Mexico City. The Mexican army, which was made up of mostly indigenous Mexicans, defended the city from two principal forts on the hill above the city, Fort Loreto and Fort Guadalupe. The French retreated after losing about 500 soldiers, with the Mexican army suffering around 100 casualties. You can read more about this history of the battle here.
It is important to know that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16th. You can read about Mexican Independence Day here.
How is it celebrated in Mexico?
The 5th of May is not celebrated nearly as much in Mexico as it is in the United States. It is not a federal holiday. However, the day is observed by most Mexican public schools. This year the 5th falls on a Thursday, and most schools and offices have Friday as a vacation day.
There is a fairly large celebration in Puebla on the 5th, with a parade, a reenactment of the battle, and other events. In other parts of the country the day is just like any other puente, or three-day weekend.
How is it celebrated in the United States?
Celebration of Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. was the result of Chican@ activists raising awareness in the 1960s about the day and using it to celebrate Mexican culture. There are large parades and cultural events throughout the U.S., especially in places with a large Mexican American population.
In addition to celebrating Mexican heritage, Cinco de Mayo is often used as an excuse for heavy drinking and partying. Along with this this celebration there is often problematic cultural appropriation, with people dressing up in stereotypical Mexican outfits and saying things like “Cinco de Drinko.” If you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I hope that you’ll avoid racist stereotypes and use the day as an opportunity to educate yourself about Mexican history and learn more about Mexican culture.
Here are a few helpful articles about how to avoid cultural appropriation while celebrating Cinco de Mayo:
- Stop calling it “Cinco de Drinko.”
- Just Avoid any Fake Spanish Vocab for that Matter
- Don’t Confuse Casual Racism for Celebration
- Let’s #ReclaimCinco Instead
“Unfortunately, the holiday has been commercialized by the food and liquor industry and in the United States, Cinco de Mayo (similar to St. Patrick’s Day) has become an excuse to imbibe spirits and help Corona and Dos Equis beer companies improve their market share. Bars offer half-price margaritas and Tex-Mex fast-food chains see an increase in sales while sombreros and piñatas fly off the shelves of big-box party supply stores. Chicana/o youth are exposed to strong alcohol marketing campaigns with damaging stereotypes. Some groups have resisted, sponsoring Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo (Cinco de Mayo with Pride) celebrations. These nonalcoholic events focus on heritage and empowerment rather than on Mexican hat dances and drinking games.”