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What You Might Not Have Known About Cinco de Mayo

By now most people are aware that Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Independence Day, but here are some things you might not have known.

What You Might Not Have Known About Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, the holiday filled with parades, mariachi music performances and street festivals in cities and towns across Mexico and the United States, actually celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. In 1861, the liberal Mexican Benito Juárez became president of a country in financial ruin, and he was forced to default on his debts to European governments.

While Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew peacefully, France, which was ruled by Napoleon III at the time, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of the Mexican territory. Under the command of General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, 6,000 French troops set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a rag-tag force of 2,000 loyal men — many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry — and sent them to Puebla to be led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza. Despite being smaller and ill equipped, the Mexican army won the battle on the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo, 1862.

Prior to the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was a nation with strong regional differences. This battle helped the country join around the idea of a unified Mexican identity. In Mexico, the day is observed with political speeches and battle re-enactments, which mainly take place in Puebla. Still, Cinco de Mayo is only a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, not even a federal holiday; yet, 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.

According to the United States Census, there are 33.6 million U.S. residents who come from Mexican heritage. In 1960, Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla. Today, revelers mark the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano. According to the California Avocado Commission, on Cinco de Mayo, Americans consume up to 81 million avocados on Cinco de Mayo. Some of the largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

In fact, the world’s largest Cinco celebration takes place in Los Angeles with the Festival de Fiesta Broadway, which is expected to draw over 300,000 people. Like St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and green beer, Cinco de Mayo has its traditions of Mexican food and drinks. Margaritas are already one of the most popular cocktails in America, but on Cinco de Mayo, margaritas accounted for 47 percent of cocktails sold and tequila sales doubled. As the celebrations evolved, Americans have firmly ingrained this foreign holiday in U.S. consciousness and American hearts.