My son was born on the 5th of May 35 years ago. Our family has been celebrating the Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) ever since. But for years, Americans have been celebrating the day for other reasons that have something to do with the day’s significance in Mexican history. As it turns out, the day that we here in the States observe with Margaritas, Mariachi music and Sombreros is not all that important a day in Mexico. It’s not a federal holiday so offices, banks and stores remain open. More interestingly though, the revelers that I questioned didn’t even know why Cinco de Mayo is significant at all. In fact, those that responded all got it wrong!

What Is It Then?

Here’s an excerpt from

Cinco de Mayo—or the fifth of May—commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. Cinco de Mayo traditions include parades, mariachi music performances and street festivals in cities and towns across Mexico and the United States.

The day does not commemorate Mexico’s independence from Spain, as most of those I questioned believe. That occurred some 50 years earlier. The holiday gained prominence in the United States in the 1960s largely due to Chicano activists who identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla. In Mexico today, the celebration is largely confined to the state of Puebla where the battle occurred.

Another Margarita Please

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all  for celebrating the Cinco de Mayo. After all, what can be bad with Margaritas, Mariachi music and Sombreros. And there is a lot right with celebrating Mexican culture and heritage. But celebrations are much more meaningful when I know what I’m celebrating. Don’t you agree?

Now Back to You

Do you celebrate the Cinco de Mayo? Do you know its significance? Be honest now. If you don’t you’re not alone. I didn’t either until I started feeling a little queasy every time someone asked me what I was actually celebrating.

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