In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that is not highly celebrated, for most it is just another day. Contrarily, in the United States, the day has become an occasion to celebrate Mexican tradition on a national scale.* Often confused for the Mexican Independence Day, it is in fact the celebration of the victory of Mexican troops over French troops in the Battle of Puebla.** And while there may have been many questions as to how Cinco de Mayo started in the US, each possibility remains a theory without concrete evidence. Noticeably, Google search trends also suggest increased interest outside Mexico by their neighbor to the north as the search index for “Cinco de Mayo” scores much higher in the United States than everywhere in Mexico except Puebla, where the birth of holiday occurred.***
In 1862, the French, along with Spanish and British troops, invaded Mexico due to financial debts owed that Mexico could not pay back at the time. President Benito Suarez was able to solve the matter with the Spanish and British by offering them a postponement on their debt and their troops were removed.* The French, however, did not accept the proposal and proceeded to invade. On May 5th, 1862, the Mexican army defeated French invaders in the city of Puebla, which the French needed to gain access to Mexico City. Heavily outnumbered and ill-equipped compared to the French who had not lost a battle in 50 years, the Mexican troops led by the famous Gen. Zaragoza were able to hold back the French–suffering losses of less than 100 men while the French lost more than 500.* The battle did nothing to stop the French in the long run, as they eventually took over Mexico City, but it was a symbol of pride, strength and freedom for the Mexican people, who proved to the French they would not be taken advantage of and would defend their land at all costs.
Speculation as to how this celebration became mainstream in the US, in one case, is thought to have to come from a Mexican high school teacher in Los Angeles who was in search for a holiday to celebrate with his class during the school year. Stumbling upon the Battle of Puebla, he shared it with his students and the festivity spread in the L.A school system. Eventually with effective marketing the celebration became popular throughout the nation.** Another theory is that Chicano activists in the 1960’s made people aware of this holiday because they felt connected to indigenous Mexican people overcoming European invaders.* It could also be that it was a holiday that was heavily celebrated in all of Mexico and by Mexicans that lived in former Mexican territories like Texas and California. Then, after some time, the celebration was lost in Mexico but not north of the border.**** However, while speculation will still remain regarding the origins of the celebration in the US, this May millions of Americans of different ethnicities and heritages will celebrate Mexican history, tradition, and culture through parades, festivals, and more.
Looking for more information regarding Cinco de Mayo? El Punto will be distributing a limited print edition throughout Los Angeles during April 2014 and will provide content online leading up to the holiday.
Advertisers looking to reach more US Hispanics around the holidays can use EC Hispanic Media resources to advertise to American-Latinos locally, regionally, and nationally!
*History, “Cinco De Mayo”, 2009
**Baja Insider, “Cinco de Mayo – May 5 – A Mexican – American Holiday”
****About.com Latin American History, “Cinco de Mayo- The Basics”, by Christopher Minster