Cinco de Mayo is celebrated every year on May 5th. While the holiday has deep political roots, observations of Cinco de Mayo in the United States tend to be more about celebrating Mexican-American culture. Mexican-Americans utilize the day to celebrate how far they have come as a culture through recognition and festive parties. At the same time, this holiday has been commercialized so that people from varying cultural backgrounds can have the opportunity to partake in the celebrations.
Cinco de Mayo is a day of celebration. Historically, however, the holiday commemorates a victory in Mexican politics and society. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army was victorious over French forces, in what would later be known as the Battle of Pubela. While the war between the Mexicans and the French wouldn’t conclude until 1867, the Battle of Pubela marked a surprise victory that carried the Mexican army through to an eventual win. Cinco de Mayo should not be confused with its independence day, which is actually observed on September 16th of every year.
The exact origination of Cinco de Mayo is unclear. Not only was there upheaval between France and Mexico, but the United States was also in the middle of the Civil War during this era. Many historians believe that the holiday first started the day of the Battle of Pubela by Mexican-Americans who lived in California. Many of these residents had escaped the oppression of the French in Mexico and traveled to the western United States in hopes of a better life.
The primary theme of Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. This is accomplished through parties, dances, and foods derived from Mexico. Symbols of Our Lady Guadalupe are also prominently displayed on Cinco de Mayo. Private parties are abundant on this day, while some cities offer public observances.
While Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated in heavily Mexican-American populated areas, the holiday is observed in all 50 states. Celebrations are most prominent in the southwestern United States. While not considered a national holiday, some participants choose to take the day off of work or school in order to celebrate. Mexico also observes Cinco de Mayo, but it is not a national holiday there either.
Cinco de Mayo also presents an educational opportunity within many U.S. schools. On the days surrounding and leading up to the holiday, some teachers choose to provide lessons about Mexican history. This includes the country’s independence from the French during the late 1860s.
The true meaning of Cinco de Mayo is often confused by the holiday’s commercialization in the United States. Many restaurants and other businesses take the opportunity to serve Mexican food and products to the public. While there is certainly no harm in partaking in these types of celebrations, many Americans do not understand the roots of Cinco de Mayo. Once the true meaning of the holiday is learned, persons of other cultures often appreciate the holiday even more.