SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Every year on May 5 or “Cinco de Mayo”, many will don the sombreros, drink margaritas and attempt to speak “Español” as a way to celebrate the Mexican holiday.
The only thing is that Cinco de Mayo is not even Mexico’s Independence Day — it’s Sept. 16.
In fact, most Americans don’t know that May 5 is not commemorating Mexico’s independence but a significant battle.
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What is Cinco de Mayo and why is it celebrated?
In the early 1800s, Mexico was in several significant wars and battles. In 1821, Mexico defeated the Spaniards and years later would end up losing the Mexican-American War in 1848. Soon after the battle with the Americans, Mexico found itself in another conflict with France.
French Emperor Napolean III sent his troops to Mexico in an effort to force Mexican President Benito Juárez and the government out of Veracruz. On May 5, 1862, Mexican forces of about 2,000 men — largely outnumbered by French forces of about 6,000 men — achieved an unlikely victory in the Battle of Puebla.
Juarez would later declare May 5 a national holiday. Some contend that had the French won in Puebla the outcome of the American Civil War would have been much different, as the French and Confederates together could have taken control of the continent,
Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the U.S.?
At first, the Mexican holiday was not heavily celebrated in the United States until the 1960s when Chicano activists identified with the victory of Indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla, according to History.com
In the years that followed, Latinos in California and across the U.S. Northwest celebrated Cinco de Mayo with parades of people dressed in Civil War uniforms, giving speeches about how the Battle of Puebla into the larger narrative of the struggle for abolition.
For many Mexican-Americans, celebrating Cinco de Mayo is one way they can honor their roots and ethnicity. And for Americans — an excuse to take a shot of tequila — or three.