The Importance of Cinco de Mayo
If you have ever spent time in California or the Southwest during the first week of May, you probably know that Cinco de Mayo is a big deal. It is celebrated with parades and fireworks and is a festive time. Interestingly, although Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, it is almost more important now to Americans of Mexican and Hispanic descent. Cinco de Mayo has a rich history, a special meaning to Mexican Americans, and a growing following in the United States today.
Many Americans probably think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. It actually celebrates a battle between the Mexican army and an invading French army. The battle took place in 1862 outside a little town called Puebla. France had been trying to take over Mexico for many years, ever since the Spanish had lost control of this important colony. The French sent a large, heavily armed, well-trained army to Mexico the Mexican army was small and without supplies. The French army thought they could easily capture Puebla, but the Mexicans had home advantage. They gathered at the top of a hill, which forced the French army to climb up after them. Then the weather helped out. Rain kept the French from advancing, and so they retreated. This victory for the Mexicans did not end the troubles between their country and France. The war for Mexican independence would not end until 1867. However, the battle did prove to the world that Mexico could take care of itself (Hayes-Bautista).
After that day, Cinco de Mayo became an important holiday to Mexicans. Still, it was always second to September 16, the real Mexican Independence Day. As many Mexicans moved to the United States and grew a part from their culture, they began to think about Cinco de Mayo differently. In the 1960s, in California, many Mexican Americans began to stand up for their rights as Americans. Like African Americans, they felt that it was important to be treated like Americans and to be able to celebrate their culture at the same time. For a while, the holiday was only celebrated by people who were interested in change and politics.
Today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated wherever their is a large Hispanic community. All across the country, people gather to celebrate Mexican culture with music, food, and parades. In Honolulu, Hawaii, people run a Cinco de Mayo marathon. In Texas, huge crowds come together for Fiesta Week. In California, thousands of people enjoy a three-day celebration complete with dance performances.
This year on May 5—whether you’re in California, Connecticut, or the Carolinas—stop and think about the significance of the day for the many Mexican Americans who live in the United States. Cinco de Mayo is a great way for people of any culture to come together, have fun, and appreciate Mexican culture. Remember its rich history, and take part in the present-day festivities.
Doss, Yvette C. “Cinco de Mayo Is Much More Than an Excuse for Having Fun.” Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service May 2017: 501.
Garcia, Ileana. “HELO Members Observe Cinco de Mayo Celebrations in Their Communities.” Nation’s City Weekly May 2017: 4.
Hayes-Bautista, David E. El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition. University of California Press, 2012.
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