Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May) has been described as a Mexican “Fourth of July,” but it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day. The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, where the Mexican forces of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin defeated French troops.
Texans have celebrated Cinco de Mayo since at least 1882 (in San Antonio). The holiday is often celebrated in America by eating Tex-Mex foods. San Marcos has held an annual Cinco De Mayo festival since 1974 and runs a state-wide menudo cook-off.
Wikipedia: Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “5th of May”) is primarily a regional and not an obligatory federal holiday in Mexico. The holiday commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The date is observed in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride.
A common misconception in the United States is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day; Mexico’s Independence Day is actually September 16 (dieciséis de septiembre in Spanish), which is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico.
Although the Mexican army was victorious over the French at Puebla, the victory only delayed the French invasion of Mexico City; a year later, the French occupied Mexico. The French occupying forces placed Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico on the throne of Mexico. The French were eventually defeated and expelled in 1867. Maximilian was executed by President Benito Juarez, five years after the Battle of Puebla.
History of observance
According to a paper published by the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, about the origin of the observance of Cinco de Mayo in the United States, the modern American focus on that day first started in California in the 1860s in response to the resistance to French rule in Mexico. The paper notes that “The holiday, which has been celebrated in California continuously since 1863, is virtually ignored in Mexico.”
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. The date is perhaps best recognized in the United States as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much as St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are used to celebrate those of Irish, German, and Chinese ancestry, respectively. Similar to those holidays, Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origin. Celebrations tend to draw both from traditional Mexican symbols, such as the Vírgen de Guadalupe, and from prominent figures of Mexican descent in the United States, such as César Chávez. To celebrate, many display Cinco de Mayo banners while school districts hold special events to educate pupils about its historical significance. Special events and celebrations highlight Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing. Examples include ballet folklórico and mariachi demonstrations held annually at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles, near Olvera Street. Commercial interests in the United States have capitalized on the celebration, advertising Mexican products and services, with an emphasis on beverages, foods, and music.
Handbook of Texas Online
FIESTAS PATRIAS. In Texas and throughout the Southwest, Mexican Americans annually celebrate two Mexican national holidays referred to as the fiestas patrias. These celebrations originated in Mexico in the nineteenth century. The first one, Cinco de Mayo (May 5), commemorates Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza’s victory on May 5, 1862, over the French expeditionary forces at Puebla, Mexico. The second, Diez y Seis de Septiembre (September 16), commemorates Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s grito de Dolores (“cry of Dolores”) on September 16, 1810, at the village of Dolores, near Guanajuato. Hidalgo called for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico. Diez y Seis de Septiembre has been celebrated in San Antonio for more than 167 years and in Goliad for 160 years. On September 16, 1825, the Republic of Mexico officially declared Diez y Seis de Septiembre its national Independence Day.
The Cinco de Mayo festival was next in importance. This event recalled the Mexican defeat of the French forces in Mexico in 1862. Disgruntled, exiled Mexican conservatives had invited Napoleon III of France to send the Hapsburg Maximilian and his wife, Carlota, to rule Mexico, in opposition to the reform movement led by Benito Juárez. Cinco de Mayo also celebrated the cultural ties that the raza (the “race” or “clan,” i.e., Mexican Americans) shared with each other and with Mexico. Sporting costumes and banners, the people gathered to hear speeches, sing patriotic songs, and eat and dance. Sponsoring societies might include Sociedad Benevolencia Mexicana, Sociedad de la Unión, Sociedad Benito Juárez de Señoras y Señoritas, Sociedad Morelos, and others.
VIVA! Cinco de Mayo (San Marcos, TX)
If you love Menudo, you’ll love being in San Marcos the first weekend in May.
The most prominent feature of VIVA! Cinco de Mayo is the OFFICIAL STATE-WIDE MENUDO COOK-OFF. Competitors from throughout the State of Texas venture to San Marcos to prepare “their” winning versions of an age-old traditional, Mexican dish - MENUDO. Each team participating has hopes of being awarded the title of “BEST MENUDO IN THE STATE OF TEXAS”. A title, however is not all that is awarded. To the top three bowls, various trophies and cash prizes are also awarded.
Menudo is not the only thing that gets judged at VIVA! Cinco de Mayo. Menudo teams also have the option of entering a second competition for the Showmanship Awards. This part of the cook-off is judged solely upon a team’s creativity and team spirit. The top team will be awarded a trophy and a cash prize.
The downtown Parade is a VIVA! Cinco de Mayo favorite. Held downtown in the beautiful historical district of San Marcos, the parade features entries from around the state and the San Marcos area. Beautiful floats, marching bands and an array of decorated vehicles are just some of the entries.
26 August 1863, San Francisco (CA) Daily Evening Bulletin, pg. 2:
Two or three of the Panuco haciendas are constantly at work beneficiating ores from mines worked by Mexicans, viz: the Cinco de Mayo, La Animas El Tiempo, and others.
19 August 1867, New York (NY) Times, “News of the Day,” pg. 4:
A Liberal newspaper, called the Cinco de Mayo, has been fined $300 for publishing an article displeasing to the Governor of Michoacan.
4 May 1882, San Antonio (TX) Evening Light, pg. 1, col. 4:
Fiesta del Cinco de Mayo.
To-morrow the Mexicans celebrate the fiesta del cinco de Mayo, in commemoration of the first battle fought against the French, in Pueblo, under General Ignacio Zaragoza. There will be a picnic at the springs at night and the festivities will be kept up for two days following.
7 May 1889, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Cinco de Mayo,” pg. 5:
EL PASO, Tex., May 6.—The festivities of the celebration of the Mexican national holiday, cinco de Mayo, culminated in a grand ball at the Teatro de Juarez, in Paso del Norte, which was attended by the elite of the city.
Making of America
January 1898, Century magazine, pg. 420:
The “CINCO DE MAYO.”
Cinco de Mayo
Monday, May. 17, 1948
In a thousand dusty village squares and in the vast Zócalo before Mexico City’s National Palace, crowds danced, skyrockets sizzled. In historic Puebla, where girls pelted his car with flowers as he passed, President Miguel Aleman laid a wreath at the foot of the statue of General Ignacio Zaragoza.
It was the Cinco de Mayo—the Fifth of May—and all Mexico was celebrating the victory won 86 years ago when General Zaragoza’s troops drove the glittering legions of Emperor Napoleon III down the slopes of Puebla.
New York (NY) Times
Have a Happy Fiesta
Published: May 5, 2008
Officially, Cinco de Mayo marks the Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexican Army defeated invading French forces in 1862. The Mexican government never made much of it. That’s perhaps because the French returned a year later, trounced the Mexicans and installed Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as emperor of Mexico for the next four years.
In Mexico, on Cinco de Mayo only Poblanos — as the people from Puebla are known — find something to celebrate. In the United States it has become a very big deal for the nation’s 45 million Hispanics, with celebrations across the country. President Bush has held Cinco de Mayo festivities at the White House.
For this north-of-the-border success, we have to thank the persuasive powers of beer. Cinco de Mayo is probably Corona’s biggest day. It has a national TV and radio campaign running and Mexican rivals like Tecate are right on its heels. Anheuser-Busch picked Cinco de Mayo to launch its new Bud Light Lime.
The party is also about tequila — with 60,000 cases sold during the first week in May last year. And, of course, guacamole — even bigger than the Super Bowl, according to the California Avocado Commission. In Atlanta, sponsors of the big Cinco de Mayo fiesta include State Farm Insurance and Hyatt Hotels.