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Cinco de Mayo - What is the day really about?

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Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico's Independence Day

Cinco de Mayo is upon us, and while many believe it is Mexico's Independence Day, it actually is not. So, what is Cinco de Mayo and why has it become so biculturally popular?

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LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - "The significance of Cinco de Mayo is that it represents Mexican resistance to foreign intervention, it is a moment where Mexico as a young nation rallied to defend itself," said Raul Ramos, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston.

Cinco de Mayo marks the "triumph of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862," according to NBC News. This is over 50 years after the Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16.

Mexico's Battle of Puebla victory was also against France, not Spain. In the 1800's, the Mexican government defaulted on foreign debt with many European countries, so France invaded them.


According to NBC News, it was Napoleon III's wish to install a monarchy in Mexico. "This was a real David versus Goliath situation that inspired Mexicans at home and in the U.S.," expressed Professor Margarita Sanchez of Wagner College to NBC News, noting that the French army was undefeatable at the time.

"Back then, when Latinos here got the news that French were stopped at Puebla, it electrified the population, and propelled them to a new level of civic participation. Latinos joined the Union army and navy and some went back to Mexico to fight the French," Hayes-Bautista told NBC News.

General Ignacio Zaragosa, the leader of Mexican forces, was born near what is now Goliad, Texas. This fact often gets lost in translation, as Mexican history in Texas is often "ghettoized."

"It gives you a sense that our countries have had a shared history going back hundreds of years," Ramos stated. "It is something that extends to cultural and national ties as well as family ties."

Overtime, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have grown greater in the United States than Mexico. "Recent Mexican immigrants are often surprised at what a huge thing Cinco de Mayo has become here," said Sánchez. "They do celebrate the holiday in Mexico, but it is only a big deal in Puebla."

The day has become a commercial holiday where people take advantage of drinking alcohol and partying without actually knowing the meaning behind what they are doing. The American celebrations began in the 1860s when Mexicans in the United States celebrated the wondrous victory in Puebla.

It wasn't until 100 years later that Chicano activists took the day and made it a representation of ethnic pride.

"I wish it were celebrated with more depth, with more opportunity to learn about Mexican history," expressed Sanchez. "But a day of celebration is a day of celebration - and that is good for everyone."

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