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What Is the History of Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo is around the corner, and a few of you are probably wondering (like you do every year around this time), what exactly is Cinco de Mayo? Put down that sweet margarita in your hand and allow us to enlighten you.

It’s not Mexican Independence Day?

Nope. A common misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that we’re toasting Mexican Independence Day over those shots of Patrón, but in fact, Mexicans celebrate their independence on September 16. Don’t worry, though, that just means that you get to have another fiesta at the end of the summer.

So what does Cinco de Mayo actually celebrate?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican triumph over the French. In 1862, Mexican forces in Puebla defeated an invading French army. Though the Mexicans only had half as many troops, they were still able to overpower the French, who at the time were the considered the strongest army in the world. Cinco de Mayo: a true underdog story.

How did Cinco de Mayo get to America?

News of the Mexican victory spread to the western U.S. when Mexican gold miners in northern California were so overjoyed at their compatriots’ success that they celebrated by firing guns and singing patriotic songs. Thus, Cinco de Mayo, the party, was born. The holiday has been celebrated in California consistently since 1863, then gained national recognition with the Chicano movement of the 1940s, and increased in popularity through the marketing efforts of beer companies in the 1980s. Ironically, the holiday isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico.

Where else is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?

The fiesta has become a worldwide event. In Prague, citizens break piñatas and rock out to mariachi bands. In the Cayman Islands, they celebrate with an air-guitar championship. In Vancouver, a local skydiving club celebrates with a ‘Cinco de Mayo Boogié.’

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