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Here's why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Posted at 10:12 AM, May 05, 2021

Wednesday is Cinco de Mayo, a holiday widely celebrated with Mexican-themed meals in the United States, but many don’t know why we commemorate May 5 each year.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War on May 5, 1862, according to the History Channel. It’s also known as Battle of Puebla Day.

The History Channel says the Battle of Puebla wasn’t a major strategic win in the overall war against France, but Mexico’s success in the clash represented a symbolic victory for the government and it strengthened the resistance movement.

A popular misconception is that Cinco de Mayo is equivalent to Independence Day in the U.S. Mexico does have an Independence Day to acknowledge its freedom from Spain, but it’s celebrated on September 16.

Cinco de Mayo is actually a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, with it primarily being observed in the state of Puebla. However, the holiday has evolved in the U.S. into a day to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage, especially in parts of the country that have large Latino populations. Along with food and drinks, festivals and parades are held in some regions.

In Texas specifically, Cinco de Mayo remains an integral part of the state’s culture. General Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the Battle of Puebla for Mexico, was born in Texas and recruited hundreds of Texans to fight in the battle, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reports.

The U.S. celebration of the holiday began in California in 1863 as an expression of solidarity with Mexico against the French, Henry Ford College reports. And by the 1930s, the holiday spread and was considered an opportunity to celebrate Mexican identity.

Although Cinco de Mayo isn’t a federal holiday, the U.S. Congress issued a proclamation in 2005, calling on Americans to observe it.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously called the Battle of Puebla the Battle of Pueblo.