Rethinking Cinco de Mayo Day
While some people believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, it is actually Battle of Puebla Day, commemorating the day that Mexico defeated Napoleon III in 1862.
Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in the United States more than in Mexico. Celebrations in the state of Puebla (100 miles east of Mexico City) are common, but are fairly uncommon in the rest of the country. Many Puebla residents are conversant about the 1862 battle and how naval forces from Great Britain, Spain, and France traveled to Mexico to negotiate various financial debts. Spain and England settled their conflicts and left quickly but France decided to fight, believing they would be the easy victors and could establish a French colony in Mexico. Mexican soldiers, greatly outnumbered and poorly armed, prevailed. The battle is a source of pride for many Mexicans but not necessarily a major national holiday.
During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, activists incorporated Chicana/o interests by strengthening cultural ties between Mexico and the United States. The United States had historically looked favorably upon the Battle of Puebla because, in 1862, U.S. leaders feared having France at its backdoor, during the U.S. Civil War. Thus, more than 100 years later, Cinco de Mayo was readily embraced as a new U.S.-Mexican holiday.
Unfortunately, the holiday has been commercialized by the food and liquor industry and in the United States, Cinco de Mayo (similar to St. Patrick’s Day) has become an excuse to imbibe spirits and help Corona and Dos Equis beer companies improve their market share. Bars offer half-price margaritas and Tex-Mex fast-food chains see an increase in sales while sombreros and piñatas fly off the shelves of big-box party supply stores. Chicana/o youth are exposed to strong alcohol marketing campaigns with damaging stereotypes. Some groups have resisted, sponsoring Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo (Cinco de Mayo with Pride) celebrations. These nonalcoholic events focus on heritage and empowerment rather than on Mexican hat dances and drinking games.
by Sudie Hofmann for the Zinn Project