Two Dancers engaging in the Traditional Mexican Hat Dance
Two Dancers engaging in the Traditional ‘Mexican Hat Dance’
Iván Liceaga

Él Cinco De Mayo 2024

Honoring Mexican-American Culture and Acknowledging History

Introduction and Historical Value

Cinco de Mayo, translating to the ‘Fifth of May’ in English, is a culturally-tied holiday. There is a common misconception that Cinco De Mayo celebrates Mexico’s Independence Day, but their Independence Day resides on September 16th. The truth is that the holiday actually celebrates the Battle of Puebla on May 5th in 1862, which was when the Mexican forces led by general Ignacio Zaragoza achieved victory over the French invaders, including their biggest rival, Napoleon the III. Days later, former president Benito Juárez proclaimed the date as a national holiday. This is why it is always on the same day every year; to honor both the respected general and president as they came together to win this battle.

This was a impactful moment for México, as France was a very tough foe during the French-Mexican War. While they didn’t win in the end, they were able to resist imperialism from France during this monumental battle, thanks to Zaragoza and Juárez, and thus the event became a symbol for México.

Shockingly, another misconception is that it is mostly Mexicans in Mexico that celebrate this holiday. While it is based off a Mexican victory, this holiday is celebrated mainly by Mexican-Americans in the United States. This is because Chicanos (Another term for being Mexican-American) were in the midst of a social movement for abolishing institutional racism and fighting for equal labor and political influence in the 60s and 70s, and associated the holiday with both successfully resisting the outside invaders and pride in their identities. It is also celebrated in the state of Puebla, where the battle took place, along with the regions surrounding it, honoring the bravery and persistence of their people in winning the battle against Napoleon the III.

Cinco De Mayo Traditions

This holiday is celebrated primarily in United States and Puebla, as Puebla is where the battle took place and both areas have the most familiarity with the holiday.

In the United States, Cinco De Mayo is most popular in Los Angeles, California. California is not only culturally diverse, but those who observe the holiday have also put an effort into conserving and upholding the Mexican culture they know and love. Additionally, Columbia, California was the first recorded area where Cinco de Mayo was celebrated in the United States, after the news had reached Mexican-American people in the area.

Mexican-American people in California, and the United States at large, celebrate with colorful parades consisting of traditional dancers like El Jarabe Tapatío (The Mexican Hat Dance), Salsa, and Mariachi bands that play traditional music. Washington, D.C. also hosts an annual ‘Running of the Chihuaha’ race, where there is not only a competition for the fastest dog, but also the most fashionable. Lastly, people eat cultural foods like Pozole, Guacamole, and Elote.

In Puebla, the celebrations take a more traditional route. Hosting events throughout the area, they participate in reenactments of the battle on that very day. Dressing up as French and Indigenous soldiers, the battle honors and celebrates the win of México. Like the United States, they also have parades, but they are more focused on honoring the military and showcasing the military shows in the area. After the parades are over, Puebla throws a month-long fair to pay regards to their own culture, including their traditional foods, rides, and hosted art performances like dances.

In conclusion, Cinco de Mayo is not only a celebration to enjoy yourself, but also a day that holds a culturally rich background that should be honored and celebrated. Even if you may not partake in activities related to the holiday, it is still important to keep yourself informed on the history relating to holidays.

More to Discover