What is Cinco de Mayo?

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo is often mistakenly celebrated as Mexican Independence Day by Americans unaware that Mexico truly celebrates its separation from Spanish colonial governments on the 16th of September. The start of the Mexican War for Independence began in 1810. A Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, led a revolution which, four days later, became the Siege of Guanajuato, the first major engagement during the War for Independence. The war continued for more than 11 years, finally coming to a victorious end for Mexico in September of 1821.

Cinco de Mayo is actually a celebration of the victory over French forces on May 5th, 1862, 41 years after the Mexican War for Independence ended. Despite gaining independence from Spain in 1821, peace did not come to Mexico for many years. Various wars, including the Mexican-American War and the Reform War, a civil war between the conservative and liberal factions, tore the newly independent Mexico apart until well into the 1960s. From 1861 until 1867, French forces fought in Mexico for economic claims to the region. It is on May 5th, 1862 that the tides changed for Mexico.

On May 5th, Mexican forces defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla. The French army was widely considered one of the best in the world at the time, and their defeat rallied Mexican moral for the next five years. The Battle of Puebla became celebrated as not only the turning point in the war, but also a unifying moment for the country and a source of nationalistic pride.

Who celebrates Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo is not recognized as a national holiday in Mexico. The states of Puebla and Veracruz, where the battle took place, observe it as a full holiday. In the rest of Mexico, schools observe the day by closing, but businesses remain open.

In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo is an entirely different story. Originally celebrated by Mexican miners and laborers who heard of the victory and were so delighted they fired rifles into the air and held wild parties, the holiday has taken a life of its own north of the border. In the 1940s, the Chicano Movement, or Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, popularized the holiday as a symbol of Mexican strength and pride by Mexican-Americans living in California. Over the years, the celebrations spilled out of California to Mexican populations all over the United States. Today, the holiday is celebrated by Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike by consuming Mexican foods, drink, and music.

Cincinnati Celebrations

Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati will come alive on May 7 and 8 for Cinci-Cinco! The event will feature live music, food, and drink from not only Mexico, but other Latin American countries including Colombia, Dominica, and Guatemala. Celebrations will begin at noon and run until 11pm on Saturday, and from noon to 7pm Sunday.

Written by: Colleen Rizzo, Global Education Intern


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