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EBLO's 2014 Cinco de Mayo Festival in Baltimore, MD
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, but rather the remembrance of an unlikely (and short-lived), David and Goliath style victory against the French in a battle in Puebla, Mexico in 1862, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza.
Cinco de Mayo is still recognized to some extent in Mexico, generally through parades and I think schools are closed (though the UNAM is still open today), and especially in Puebla. However, it doesn't compare to the extent and popularity of the celebrations in the U.S., either as heritage celebrations with traditional music and dance performances for example, or as an excuse to drink. Perhaps that's because the Cinco de Mayo holiday as we know it in the U.S. was invented in the U.S.
In an excerpt from the article "Cinco de Mayo: An American Holiday, Not Mexican," author Nick Ng. explains:
"However, Cinco de Mayo was “celebrated” before the Mexicans re-established their government and rule. After the victory at the Battle of Puebla, news had already spread to the West Coast of the U.S., where the event was memorialized by “juntas patrioticas mejicanas,” (Mexican patriotic assemblies), which were a group of about 14,000 Latinos who were networked throughout most of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon, according to Hayes-Bautista. They celebrated the victory with parades, banquets, dances and speeches to boost morale among the Latinos in support of President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. For a short time after the Civil War, American and Mexican veterans would put on their uniforms and give speeches on Cinco De Mayo.
These stories would be passed by each generation to the grandchildren of the veterans from the 1890s, into World War II and during the Chicano movement in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, corporate companies began to commercialize Cinco de Mayo by promoting alcoholic beverages, food and products to the Latino communities — “a fake holiday recently invented by beverage companies,” said Hayes-Bautista. He even said that Cinco de Mayo got its own postage in 1996 and former president George W. Bush threw a Cinco de Mayo party at the White House in 2005. Truly, the Cinco de Mayo “holiday” stems from American capitalism rather than a recognition of a Mexican historical event.
Even though some Mexicans frown upon how Cinco de Mayo is commercialized in the U.S., some believe that this could be a good thing for both Americans and Latinos. In an interview with National Geographic, José Alamillo, Ph.D., professor of ethnic studies at Washington State University, suggested that Cinco de Mayo allowed Americans “to partake in and learn about Mexican culture through Cinco de Mayo.” University of Oklahoma professor Robert David-Undiano, who teaches American and Chicano studies, said that Cinco de Mayo could improve the relationship between Latino and non-Latino communities, ” especially at a time when tensions surrounding the illegal immigration debate run high.” Despite the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo, the American “holiday” could unite Mexican and other Latinos with Americans and other cultures in the U.S. Even so, the significance among the French invasion, the Battle of Puebla and the American Civil War should also be recognized."
Click here to read what All About Puebla has to say in "Why Cinco de Mayo Matters in Mexico, U.S." or here for the article "Cinco de Mayo: An American Holiday, Not Mexican," by Nick Ng.