Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that has a different level of significance dependent on where and who is celebrating it. For instance, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated quite differently in the United States as compared to Mexico. Many synonymously associate the holiday with Mexican Independence however this in fact is a misconception. The history behind this holiday is a symbolic one where Mexico fought foreign invaders and their imperialistic goals to build a dependent empire within Mexico.
The true history behind Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May as it is translated, dates back to the Franco-Mexican War between 1861 and 1867. This war was ultimately triggered because of an outstanding state debt. According to History.com Mexico defaulted on European debts, specifically to Spain, France and Britain. In response, all three of these countries sent naval forces to Mexico to pressure for and demand reimbursement. With the situation looking like a high stakes scenario, Mexico was successful in negotiating agreements with Spain and Britain. Mexico was unable to reach a compromise with France who, under the leadership of Napoleon III, took this opportunity to try and pivot towards building a dependent empire within the Mexican territory. Napoleon sent 6,000 troops to attack Puebla while Mexican President Juarez rounded up 2,000 troops to defend the small eastern central Mexican town. Although the Mexican’s were outnumbered they were successful in holding off the French assault while only incurring approximately 100 casualties in comparison to France’s 500. This single battle did not have a huge impact on the overall outcome of the war however it became known for its symbolic victory against the obvious incredible odds. The war ultimately came to an end when the United States came to their neighbors’ assistance, by applying both political and military pressure onto France.
North of the border, in the United States, Cinco De Mayo carries a very different significance and its celebrations are equally different. While Mexico celebrates this holiday by carrying out military parades and reenactments of the battle with France, the United States associates it more with the celebration of the Mexican culture and heritage. Many in the United States and elsewhere truly misunderstand the true nature of this holiday. Many mistakenly celebrate Cinco de Mayo as the Mexican independence, however this was in fact declared 50 years earlier from the Spanish colonial government. In spite of the fact that there are many different notions surrounding this holiday the United States celebrates it on a large scale in honor of the Mexican victory over their aggressors. In contrast, Mexico’s celebration of the holiday is usually concentrated on Puebla and less on a national scale.
Cinco de Mayo is one of those holidays shrouded in mystery and although the celebrations themselves come from different ideas and meanings the overall sentiment seems singular in nature. No matter where, who or how this holiday is celebrated it is one that highlights Mexican pride and perseverance stemming from a rich cultural heritage. Happy Cinco de Mayo.