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What Cinco de Mayo is really about

Samantha Esquivel/YJI

Matamoros, MEXICO – Cinco de Mayo is a known holiday in Mexico and America that dates to the 19th century. Yet, as time progressed, the holiday went from being the anniversary of a significant battle in Mexico to one Americans celebrated for Mexican heritage and capitalization of another foreign holiday.

This has caused misconceptions regarding the holiday, which we’ll debunk here.

First off, Cinco de Mayo, also known as “La Batalla de Puebla,” is not the day Mexico gained its Independence. Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16.

The story behind Cinco de Mayo dates to France, which invaded Mexico in the Second Franco-Mexican War. There, several battles occurred all around Mexico’s land, with the triumph at the Battle of Puebla being especially significant.

On May 5th, 1862, Mexican soldiers led by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the invading, more numerous, and better equipped French militia.

After defeats in other parts of Mexico, the triumph at the Battle of Puebla served as an emotional boost to the soldiers and to Mexico. Four days later, President Benito Juarez declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday, then-called “Battle of Puebla Day.”

Although the French eventually won the Second Franco-Mexican War, this battle became significant as it slowed down the French invasion and forced them to re-group, proving to the world that Mexico was not the easy target some imagined it to be. This became a special day for Mexico.

Nonetheless, Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated in Puebla compared to other states in Mexico. And now, it is commonly celebrated in the United States as well.

“I’m not planning on celebrating Cinco de Mayo and never have,” said Jolette Maldonado, a New York University student who is from Matamoros, Mexico. “Coming from Mexico, none of my family acknowledges it, and many Mexicans share the same sentiment, whereas it is mostly non-Mexican Americans who celebrate it for some reason.”

According to Bryan Sosa, who lives in Matamoros, Mexico and went to school there until eighth grade, he learned of Cinco de Mayo in elementary school, but never celebrated it in school or at home.

It often is overshadowed in Mexico by other more prominent holidays such as Independence Day and Dia de los Muertos.

“It is not as important as the Independence Day or Mexican Revolution Day for me, so I will not celebrate [Cinco de Mayo],” said high school junior Diego Cavazos, who lives in Brownsville, Texas.

“I only see that some restaurants use it as an excuse to give out deals and promotions,” Cavazos said. “For me, it’s the way to capitalize another foreign celebration.”

For the U.S., specifically businesses, Cinco de Mayo is a day to promote tequila, tacos, and other stereotypical Mexican items to increase revenue. Yet it is also a way to showcase Hispanic Heritage for Mexican Americans in the U.S. 

“It is a day for Mexicans to be proud of their culture, especially in the U.S. since it is more celebrated there,” said high school senior Cindy Perez from Forth Worth, Texas. “I think it is celebrated in both places, but it is a bigger celebration in the United States since not only Mexicans celebrate it, but other races do, too.”

Regardless of the debate of its relevance, Cinco de Mayo remains the anniversary of a significant battle Mexico won.

“It was an amazing event, the powerful French army was defeated by an army with less supplies, preparation and soldiers,” added Cavazos.

So, feel free to celebrate it being a bit more informed on its origins and current standing.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Samantha Esquivel is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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