Did you know Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated more in the United States than it is in Mexico?
It celebrates Mexican culture, achievements and the good fortune of Mexican-Americans living in the United States. Festivities include parades, dancing, food, mariachi music, and performances. Some of the largest celebrations are in California, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. It’s also celebrated in Puebla, Mexico since that’s the site of the victory. What victory you ask?
Cinco de Mayo honors the Mexican Army’s victory over France. It’s actually the celebration of the Battle of Puebla. When was that? On May 5th, 1862. So why is it celebrated in the United States when it is hardly celebrated in Mexico? Some would have you believe the celebration has to do with Mexican Independence Day, but that’s not until September 16th. (1810 was the first year Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain). Today, Cinco de Mayo is advertised as a celebration of Mexican-American culture for those that live in the United States.
Why the war?
After the Mexican-American war and their Reform War (civil war) in the mid-1800s, the Mexican Treasury was nearly bankrupt. The president (Benito Juárez) said all foreign debt payments would be not be paid for two years. The countries that loaned them money didn’t like that. Britain, France and Spain sent naval ships to collect their debt. Britain and Spain negotiated a deal and went back to their respective countries, but the French wanted their money. They also wanted to set up an empire in Mexico that would favor French interests. They were trying to take advantage of a country in disarray. Per SmithsonianMag.com, “The Mexican army, with just 4,000 men, trounced the French army of 8,000. The French hadn’t lost a battle in 50 years.” The Mexican’s victory represented a significant morale boost to the army and the Mexican people. It also helped establish a sense of national unity and patriotism.
While California has celebrated Cinco de Mayo since 1863, it didn’t gain popularity in other states until the 50’s and 60’s. It really started to take off in the 1980s when beer and liquor manufacturers made the most of the festive event and promoted it more.
How should you celebrate? Eat of course!!
Try Mole Poblano “The jewel of Puebla food”: essentially a pureed sauce of fresh or dried green chilies and chocolate. When it accompanies turkey, it’s considered a national dish of Mexico.
Try Chiles en Nogada: meat-stuffed poblano chilies bathed in nogada, a walnut cream sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley.
Try Chalupas (not the fast food kind): fried corn tortillas, topped with queso fresco (“fresh cheese”; like ricotta or feta), cilantro and for meat-lovers, pulled pork or chicken.
So, on this upcoming May 5th, celebrate Mexican culture: eat, drink, dance and wear the red, white and green colors of Mexico and have a margarita or cerveza.