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Every year on the fifth of May millions of people across the world head out on the streets to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Street parties, carnivals, dancing, and music make for a joyous time to celebrate everything about Mexican culture. Many are under the misconception that May 5 is Mexican Independence Day. This is actually celebrated on September 16. In fact, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle that took place between the Mexicans and French armies in the 1860s.

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The Battle of Puebla

The France-Mexico conflict began in 1861 when Napoleon III recognized the importance of Mexico being a close neighbor to the US. By taking Mexico, he could lend his support to the Confederate cause in the US civil war that was already underway. But Napoleon III underestimated the resistance he would face on arrival in the town of Puebla.

assault to Puebla prison by French army soldiers
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The Underdogs Triumph

The Mexicans were underdogs on May 5, 1862. The French military outnumbered them in both men and weaponry. The fate of Puebla looked bleak. Grenades fell on the town as the French tried desperately to enter. But a small band of Mexicans held firm and fought with courage and valor. Eventually, the French were forced to retreat. The underdogs had won the day, and the bells of Puebla rang loud and true that night.

Cinco de Mayo Victory monument in Puebla, Mexico
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Mexico Still Lost the War

The Battle of Puebla was a triumphant win for Mexico. However, the country failed in its attempts to push out the French. They were defeated, and colonial rule lasted for the next five years. In 1867, with support from the United States, Mexico fought the French and won back their independence. The unlikely victory at Pueblo remained a source of national pride and inspiration. The then president, Benito Juarez, was quick to make it a national holiday and its anniversary is still remembered to this day.

Aerial view of downtown Puebla, Mexico
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Cinco de Mayo Comes to America

President Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for bringing the party to the United States. In 1933, he created the 'Good Neighbor Policy' as a way of improving relationships with Latin American countries. By introducing Cinco de Mayo to the American people, they were now able to celebrate hand in hand with Mexicans, bringing the two cultures closer together.

United States Mexico relations roosevelt Oleksii Liskonih / Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

It may surprise you to learn that Cinco de Mayo is no longer a national holiday in Mexico. Although school children are given the day off, government offices and banks may or may not open depending on which state they are in. Despite this, street parties and fiestas are still held across the country. But the biggest celebrations take part where it all started. Puebla comes alive with colorful parades and reenactments of the famous battle.

Cinco de Mayo in the US

Cinco de Mayo is a much bigger annual event north of the border than in Mexico itself. In 2005, Congress declared May 5 to be an official public holiday. George W. Bush proclaimed that the day was to become a celebration of Mexican-American heritage. Both Presidents Bush and Obama took up the tradition of holding an annual Cinco de Mayo reception at the White House. Cabinet members along with Latino celebrities and dignitaries would gather to embrace Mexican culture.

Traditional Carne Asada Tacos and Nachos with Mexican and American Mini Flags

Historical Significance for the US

Had it not been for Cinco de Mayo, things could have turned out very differently for the United States. Mexican victory at Puebla was a blessing for the US. If Napoleon III had succeeded in conquering the town, he would then have turned his focus to assisting the Confederate Army during the Civil War. History books would tell a very different story.

Napoleon statue on Horseback

The Largest Party in the World

With nearly 18 percent of the US population being Hispanic, it is no wonder Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with such passion and enthusiasm. The largest Cinco de Mayo party in the world is held in Los Angeles when over 600,000 people attend. Significant celebrations in the US are also held in Chicago, Denver, and San Antonio. Chandler, Arizona has become renowned for its annual Cinco de Mayo Chihuahua Races. But the US has stiff competition from other nations as Cinco de Mayo is becoming more and more popular around the globe.

Mariachi Musicians

The Corona Effect

With an increasing Hispanic population and the growing popularity of Cinco de Mayo, beer companies realized there were huge profits to be made. In the 1980s, Corona began huge advertising campaigns in the run-up to May 5. They encouraged Mexican-Americans to celebrate their heritage by purchasing Mexican beer. The effect was that Corona turned May 5 into an all-day happy hour.

mexican beer corona happy hour LOVE_LIFE / Getty Images

Respect the Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

To some people, Cinco de Mayo has become known as "Drinko de Mayo" or "Cinco de Drinko." It's an excuse to don sombreros, wear fake mustaches and drink Corona until falling over. Throwing a party is a great way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. But in doing so, remember to be respectful of the true meaning of the day. Listen to some of the fantastic music that Mexico has produced. Drink a margarita or two. Enjoy some of their tasty authentic cuisine. Most important is celebrating the amazing heritage and culture that Mexico has to offer.

Mexican flag waving in front of the town hall

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