CHARLOTTE: It won’t be long before “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day” and the Cinco de Mayo celebration are upon us. While the parties begin all over the United States, Mexico, for the most part, pays no attention. While most Americans already know that Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexico and her independence, who cares? It’s mainly a good reason for some tasty cultural appropriation, to drink Margaritas and gnosh on nachos, salsa and queso, and, frankly, that’s the perfect excuse with no explanation required.
On the other hand, why let a great celebration go to waste without delving into some trivia?
Cinco de Mayo Celebration Trivia
The one place in Mexico where Cinco de Mayo gets its most proper recognition is the city of Puebla where the Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862.
France had amassed a huge army in 1861 to invade Mexico in an attempt to collect debts during Mexico’s war of independence from Spain. Moving like a steamroller, the larger, well trained and better-equipped army stormed through Mexico with little resistance until it got to Puebla.
It was there that Mexico made a phenomenal stand against overwhelming odds to defeat their European invaders.
Though short-lived, the triumph over France was a huge victory for the village of Puebla and, for that reason, Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) has become a day of joyous celebration.
For the rest of Mexico however, not so much.
The Battle of Puebla
A young officer named Porfirio Diaz distinguished himself during the Battle of Puebla to advance rapidly through military ranks where he eventually became president of Mexico in 1876. Diaz, whose career began with the victory on Cinco de Mayo, ruled for 35 years before being ousted from office in 1911 during the Mexican Revolution.
Thus the “George Washington of Mexico” became one of the most important presidents in the history of the country, and today, September 16 is honored as Mexico’s Independence Day. This date, celebrating Mexican independence from Spain is the true national holiday of the country.
There are some major international figures whose names are associated with Cinco de Mayo despite its less than significant image in Mexico. One such personality was Napoleon III, the leader of France, who had several reasons for invading the country.
Napoleon wanted to widen his empire throughout Mexico because it represented an important access point to the United States. His primary strategy was to throw French support to the Confederate Army during the Civil War in the hope he could perpetuate the division between the states, therefore keeping the U.S. vulnerable by being less powerful.
At the same time, American president Abraham Lincoln sided with the Mexican cause during France’s occupation but because of the Civil War, he was unable to provide direct aid and support to their cause.
America’s support of Mexico
When the War between the States ended in the mid-1860s, the U.S. interceded and pushed the invading troops out of Mexico resulting in the collapse of the French empire in the region.
Nearly 7 decades later in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt popularized Cinco de Mayo in the United States in an effort to improve relations with Latin America. The “Good Neighbor Policy” may have been the greatest single boost for the consumption of avocados and guacamole in history.
The largest Cinco de Mayo Celebration happens in Los Angeles
Whatever Mexico overlooks, the city of Los Angeles in California makes up for. Los Angeles is the place with the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Los Angelinos call it the “Festival de Fiesta Broadway” which either falls on the 5th of May or the closest Sunday to it. With hundreds of thousands attending the gala festivities that include parades, food, dancing, and music, the American celebration exceeds the party in Puebla by a considerable margin.
Cinco de Mayo no longer a national celebration in Mexico
Cinco de Mayo was once a national celebration throughout Mexico, but, over time, it was ignored in its home country.
People of Mexican descent living in Mexican territories north of the border such as Texas and California however, never let the tradition expire. Consequently, over the years thanks to the American philosophy of never letting a good celebration go to waste, the Cinco de Mayo celebration is a good excuse to imbibe in all things Mexican.
Cinco de Mayo Food and Drink
Based upon statistics from the California Avocado Commission, Americans alone eat approximately 81 million pounds of avocados on Cinco de Mayo.
Furthermore, Americans love Tequila, drinking twice as much of the popular libation as its country of origin in Mexico.
All in all, the Cinco de Mayo celebration is more about Mexican traditions and lifestyles than a largely insignificant battle from a century and a half ago.
Chandler, Arizona, for example, is famous for its Chihuahua races and, even the Canadians get into the act in Vancouver where they enjoy the festivities with an air show and aerial acrobatics known as the “skydiving boogie.”
Just as green beer and the “wearing of the green” on St. Patrick’s Day has become a favorite excuse for a party in the United States, so too, has Cinco de Mayo.
That leaves ten other months to fill in the gaps, but one thing is certain, St. Patrick’s and Cinco de Mayo sure beats the hell out of taking a stab at the Ides of March.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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