Facts About Cinco de Mayo
What is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo—May 5th—is a holiday celebrated in the United States and some parts of Mexico. The holiday commemorates the greatly-outnumbered Mexican army's victory over France on May 5, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, a war which was fought from 1861 to 1868.
Battle of Puebla
In 1861, Benito Juárez became president of Mexico. The country was experiencing financial difficulties, so loans were obtained from several European countries. Mexico was unable to repay the loans made by France, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The three countries sent ships to Mexico, with each country demanding loan repayment. Mexico successfully negotiated settlements with Spain and the United Kingdom, so the ships from those countries returned to Europe.
Napoleon III was the ruler of France. Rather than negotiate a settlement with Benito Juárez, Napoleon attempted to make Mexico a dependent empire of France. In the last quarter of 1861, a French fleet arrived in the waters off Veracruz, Mexico.
A well-armed force stormed the city. President Juárez and the other government officials fled Veracruz.
French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez decided that the small city of Puebla de Los Angeles in east central Mexico would be an easy target for his 6000 troops. President Juárez—from his new headquarters in northern Mexico—sent Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza and 2000 men to defend the city of Puebla. The Mexicans, outnumbered three to one, didn’t have enough weapons, supplies, or equipment. They fortified the city as best they could and waited for the French to attack.
General Zaragoza and his 6000 well-equipped soldiers attacked the city of Puebla de Los Angeles, defended by General Ignacio Zaragoza and his rag-tag group of 2000 men—many of them not soldiers—on May 5, 1862. The battle lasted from dawn until early evening. It ended when the French, who had lost 500, men retreated. The Mexicans lost 100 men. The Battle of Puebla was a symbolic—rather than a strategic—victory for Mexico.
In 1868, six years after the battle, the Civil War in the United States ended, and the US was finally able to help Mexico. Due to military assistance and political pressure from the United States, the French withdrew from Mexico.
Napoleon III had installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor of Mexico in 1864. The Archduke was captured by Juárez’s forces in 1868 and executed.
Have you ever attended a Cinco de Mayo celebration?
Cinco de Mayo Celebrations in Mexico
Cinco de Mayo isn't a federal holiday in Mexico. In most parts of the country, the day is no different than other days. Banks and offices, as well as stores, remain open.
The Fifth of May—Cinco de Mayo—is celebrated as a holiday in some parts of the state of Puebla. There are recreations of the Battle of Puebla, military parades, and other minor festivities.
Have you ever seen / heard a mariachi band perform live?
Cinco de Mayo Celebrations in the United States
Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in the United States every year since 1863. An impromptu celebration by Mexican miners working in California occurred. The miners, overjoyed at news of the victory at the Battle of Puebla, sang songs, made speeches, and fired rifles into the air.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles— the Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels—the second settlement by the Mexicans in Upper California, founded in 1781, became the city of Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, the celebrations occur at the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles, near Olvera Street.
Mexican culture and heritage is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo in the United States, with the largest celebrations being held in Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; and Los Angeles, California. Celebrations include Mexican folk music—mariachi—and folk dancing— baile folklórico.
On June 7, 2005, the US Congress adopted a non-binding resolution calling for the President of the United States to issue a proclamation requesting the people of the US to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities.