Cinco de Mayo is a popular cultural celebration here in the U.S. with the largest celebration taking place right here in Los Angeles. Although the holiday is not widely celebrated in Mexico, U.S. Cinco De Mayo has taken on a whole different meaning in the U.S. and is used as a way to celebrate Mexican heritage rather than its original history.
Cities with large Mexican-American populations like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston tend to hold some of the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the world with Los Angeles Fiesta Broadway festival being the largest.
Often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which actually falls on September 16th, Cinco De Mayo is the day that recognizes Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla over France who invaded after President Benito Juárez stopped paying interest on the money he owed France, Spain, and Britain for two years.
In December of 1861, Spain took possession of the port of Veracruz along with Britain and France who followed shortly after on January 14, 1862. The three powers wanted to open negotiations in regard to Mexico’s owed debt and agreed to hold a conference in Orizaba, Mexico after Foreign Minister Manuel Doblado invited the country’s commissioners there.
By the Spring of that year, Spain and Britain agreed to a bargain with Mexico and withdrew their forces from the invasion but Napoleon III ordered that France continue on with the invasion and took Orizaba.
The battle that followed was the Battle of Puebla at Fort Guadalupe which was dominated by Mexico after France suffered a loss of 500 casualties in an attempt to seize the fort. Mexico experienced around 85 casualties. This victory was a surprise to the other countries as many of the other powers thought that France would reign victorious.
Although the day is a significant part of Mexico’s history, Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated and is primarily observed by the state of Puebla in Mexico. In the U.S. however, Cinco de Mayo is used as a way to celebrate Mexican culture for Mexican-Americans after Chicano activists raised awareness for the holiday in the 1960s and is now often celebrated with mariachis, Folklorico dancers, drinking, and cultural dishes.