Cinco de Mayo History

Many people believe Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain, but this is far from reality. This holiday commemorates La Batalla de Puebla, a battle that took place before the Mexican revolution and after the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848.

La Batalla de Puebla was between a small Mexican army (about 4,000 men) against the French army-which was double the size of the Mexican army.

The wild detail behind this piece of history is that in 1862 General Ignacio Zaragoza attacked the French army by releasing a herd of stampeding cattle ahead of his men. This successfully crippled the French army.

I believe the significance of Cinco de Mayo derives from the strength and the courage of the Mexican army that allowed it to destroy the French army at “La Batalla de Puebla.”

Cinco de Mayo History in the U.S.

cinco-de-mayo-party-ideasDo you know the celebration of Cinco de Mayo started in the U.S. by Mexicans in California who wanted to show support to their mother country?

In 1863 a Mexican entrepreneur started a Cinco de Mayo dance and this tradition spread around with the performance of private Mexican and Spanish dances.

The celebrations included speeches about the importance of the day and parades mainly within Mexican communities, as well as traditional foods that later became typical Cinco de Mayo recipes

The 1960’s and 70’s were a time of change and demand for civil rights. The Chicano movement was born in the mid-1960’s and coincided with the birth of the Black Power Movement as Roberto Rodriguez tells in his research paper “The Origins and History of the Chicano Movement.”

Keeping Cinco de Mayo history alive was the perfect answer for Chicanos who were looking for a celebration that reflected their experience in the U.S., and for educators who wanted to bring culturally important facts into schools like Mexican history and traditions, and well known Cinco de Mayo recipes that showed typical Mexican foods.

In the mid 1980’s American companies realized the growing number of Mexican consumers and started to fund Cinco de Mayo celebrations to get direct exposure to this growing market. The rest is history, and eventually Cinco de Mayo became recognized in America.


Interesting Fact About Cinco de Mayo

The commercialization of Cinco de Mayo started because Coors Brewing Company wanted to improve its image among Hispanics who used to boycott the brewing company for alleged discriminatory practices.

Rodolfo F. Acuña explains in his book: “Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles,” how in 1985 the National Council of La Raza, the American GI Forum, and later the League of United Latin Americans Citizens signed an agreement with the brewing company to stop the long-standing boycott in exchange for more than $350 million in donations to Latino organizations.

Cinco de Mayo History… How We Celebrate Today

One major celebration is the “Fiesta Broadway” in Los Angeles, California. In 1989 the Spanish-language network Univision approached Major Tom Bradley to make this event possible. From then on the city started to be a co-sponsor of the event.

The main purpose of the “Fiesta Broadway” was to recreate the successful holiday party of “La Calle Ocho” in Miami by celebrating Cinco de Mayo in California where there is a strong Mexican presence and the largest Hispanic population in the U.S.

The Fiesta Broadway celebration of Cinco de Mayo starts with the closing of thirty six blocks in downtown L.A. and attracts more than half a million participants each year. Mexican music, food and culture help recognize the contributions of Mexican-Americans to the American culture and bring together a broad community.

The event includes art and essay contests, “danzas folclóricas” -folkloric dances- and Mexican food made from typical Cinco de Mayo recipes. There is no liquor sold at the event in order to preserve its family atmosphere.

Today many cities around the U.S. celebrate with small festivals. Libraries put out specific books about Cinco de Mayo history and of course, late night parties at many establishments are the norm.

One of the most beautiful traditions is to bring back Cinco de Mayo history by preparing typical Mexican food at home and telling how the Batalla de Puebla made this day so special for many Hispanic people. Simple things like reading a book with your child about it and coloring the Mexican flag help keep traditions alive. Que viva Cinco de Mayo!


  1. Just read a LA Weekly article that said the internationalism of the people in California was due to the Civil War. The Mexicans here saw the writing on the wall – if the South won the war, former Mexicans could end up enslaved, or would have fewer rights. So they were organizing to join the Union army and fight. The fight against the French was seen as part of a larger fight for survival, and the Californians had organized over a hundred fundraising groups to send money to Mexico to arm the people. Also, it’s important to note that the people who came to California were not all white. A lot of them were mixed race, Black, or Indigenous. They were not all from Mexico either.

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