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It’s almost that time of the year when everyone shares their favorite guacamole recipe and your favorite Mexican restaurant has a 2-hour waiting list! Cinco de Mayo is upon us and now is a good time to brush up on the history of the holiday. Perhaps you were wondering how Mexicans celebrate this holiday, if they even celebrate it at all. Now more than ever, it is important to celebrate and teach Cinco de Mayo respectfully. Now is the time to debunk the common myths that oftentimes are associated with this holiday.
Let’s Learn the History Behind the Holiday
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for the Fifth of May) is a holiday celebrated in certain parts of Mexico and the entirety of the United States. This holiday is in honor of an important military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III. It is celebrated annually on May 5 and it is not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is on September 16th.
In 1862, the French Army came to conquer Mexico due to Mexico defaulting on debt payments owed to them. Six thousand French troops set out to attack the town of Puebla. General Ignacio Zaragoza was in charge of defending his country. Despite being outnumbered 2:1 and being poorly equipped, the indigenous and mixed army defeated the French. Although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years, the victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance. The city, which was later renamed Puebla de Zaragoza, is the site of a museum devoted to the battle, and the battlefield itself is maintained as a park. Word of this underdog victory spread quickly!
According to UCLA professor David Hayes-Bautista, “when Latinos here got the news that the French were stopped at Puebla, it electrified the population and propelled them to a new level of civic participation” during the Civil War. They joined the Union army, navy, and some even went back to Mexico to fight the French.
For a quick two-minute video that explains the story of Cinco de Mayo, check out the Ask History video on the subject. For a wonderful bilingual upper elementary book on Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, I highly recommend The Hero of Cinco de Mayo / El Héroe De Cinco De Mayo: Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín by José Angel Gutiérrez.
Cinco de Mayo Is Celebrated Regionally in Mexico
The Cinco de Mayo Parade is one of the main events in Puebla and usually boasts over 20,000 participants. It features Mariachi bands, colorful costumes, dancing, and fireworks. For many Mexicans, however, May 5th is like any other day. It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks, and stores remain open. Interestingly enough, students do have the day off from school. Some communities have military parades and recreations of the Battle of Puebla, but it is known as a regional holiday. In Mexico City, military commemoration is occasionally held at the Campo Marte.
How the Authenticity of the Holiday Slipped Away in the U.S.
In the early 1960s, many Mexican-American activists involved in the Latino civil rights movement used Cinco de Mayo as a source of pride. Unfortunately, in 1989, an ad campaign by an importer of beers like Corona and Modelo was introduced around the holiday. It was initially targeted toward Latinos but eventually broadened with print and TV ads. Fast forward to now, Cinco de Mayo is one of the biggest drinking events in the country.
Reminder: This Holiday is Important for Mexican-American Communities
Although Cinco de Mayo is a fun day to eat and drink, this represents Mexican-American culture and it is seen as a day signifying that overcoming steep odds is possible. Check out the festivities available in your town! You may never know if there is a re-enactment or authentic cultural event happening! If you are a business owner and run a holiday-related promotion, I highly recommend using your words wisely. This bar in New York State learned the hard way!
How to Honor Cinco de Mayo
An easy way to honor the holiday is by supporting authentic Mexican businesses. There are plenty of wonderful Mexican-owned small businesses where you can purchase goods and services online if in-person isn’t an option. Visit the Support Latino Business and use their search engine as a resource.
Another way to honor the holiday is by using Spanish respectfully and not harassing others for speaking their native language whether it’s Spanish, Nahuatl, or any of the dozens of languages spoken. Avoid wearing sombreros, serapes, or fake mustaches. While people think they are being funny or harmless wearing these costumes, in reality, they are minimizing our cultures, our heritage, and our histories.
Research and Learn More About Mexican Culture
Learning more can be as simple as listening to a new Mexican musical genre such as Banda or trying a new Mexican dish! For example, you may know mole poblano is the official dish of Cinco de Mayo but there are over fifty varieties of this mouth-watering dish! Mexican food varies by state and it’s so wonderfully diverse! If you enjoy podcasts, I highly recommend Latino USA, the longest-running Latino-focused program on U.S. public media. They highlight important issues related to the Latinx community, including Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Also, a trip to your local library never fails! Your wonderful librarians can point you to excellent resources on Mexican culture.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Remember to celebrate responsibly this Cinco de Mayo and please do not drink and drive!
Thank you so much for checking this blog post. If you are interested in more cultural blog posts, check them over here.
Resources you will like
This resource will help expose your students to more music rhythms and genres in Spanish.
You will find the following in this resource:
4×6 inches flashcards featuring 20 Spanish speaking countries
Each card contains 2 or 3 songs performed by an artist or band of such country. Each song includes a code that can be scanned for your students to listen to the song on Spotify. Codes work on Spotify only.
3×4 inches flashcards of 21 countries and their flags.
66 cards featuring songs in Spanish.
Each card contains a code that can be scanned for your students to listen to the song on Spotify. Codes work on Spotify only.
4X6 “Música en español” Bulletin board letters
2 worksheet activities