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The History Behind Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching. Most folks pull out the guacamole and celebrate with friends over margarita specials at their local cantina, but beyond the revelry of the fiesta, here’s a few things you might not know about the fifth of May holiday:

Not Mexican Independence Day?

A common misconception of Cinco de Mayo is that we’re toasting Mexican Independence Day over those shots of Patrón. Mexicans actually celebrate their independence on September 16th, which means that you have another fiesta at the end of the summer.

So what does Cinco de Mayo actually celebrate?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican triumph over the French. In 1862, an invading French army was defeated by Mexican forces in Puebla. Though the Mexicans had half as many troops, they were still able to overpower the French, who at the time were the best army in the world. Cinco de Mayo is a true underdog story.

How did Cinco de Mayo get to America?

News of the Mexican victory spread to the Western US when Mexican gold miners in Northern California were so overjoyed at their paisanos’ success that they celebrated by firing guns and singing patriotic songs. Thus, Cinco de Mayo, the party, was born. The holiday has been celebrated in California consistently since 1863, gained national recognition with the Chicano Movement of the 1940s and increased in popularity through the marketing efforts of beer companies in the 1980s. Ironically, the holiday isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo outside the United States.

The fiesta has truly become a worldwide event. In Prague, citizens break piñatas and rock out to mariachi bands. In the Cayman Islands, they celebrate with an air guitar championship. In Vancouver, a local sky-diving club celebrates with a “Cinco de Mayo Boogié.”

- Contributed by Josh Heller

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