The History and Traditions of Cinco de Mayo
There are quite a few misconceptions about the history and traditions associated with the Mexican holiday “Cinco de Mayo”. Contrary to popular belief, the 5th of May is not Mexican Independence day, nor does it have much of anything to do with Spain. We will delve into the actual history of this holiday and the traditions used to mark its passing.
Cinco de Mayo History
It’s time to lay down some Cinco de Mayo facts. Many people often ask how long Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated. Cinco de Mayo traditions only date back to late 19th century – specifically, it is based on events that took place in 1861. For the record, Mexico had already been an independent nation for the better part of 50 years.
The 19th century for Mexico was full of civil strife and conflict, and it seemed one war came directly after another. Conflicts over religions, monarchy and debts all followed and fed into one another. Cinco de Mayo comes during the war over debt. The Mexican reform war (centered around the separation of church and state) left the country destitute, and their national assembly declared a moratorium on all debt repayments. The Major European powers were incensed at the idea they were not being paid back and threatened invasion. Though Mexico was able to broker a deal with most of the European powers, negotiations with France fell apart, and the French army launched a 6,000 man invasion of the country.
The French army fought their way inland. They eventually came upon a dug in, albeit much smaller, Mexican force at Puebla and a battle ensued. On May 5, 1862, the smaller Mexican forces were able to push the French army back and secure a morale victory in the war. This event was used to bolster the morale of resistor and unify large sections of the country.
A year later the French returned with 30,000 soldiers and conquered Mexico City. What followed was a three-year monarchy under Emperor Maximilian I. When the American civil war ended the US refocused on its southern border and began offering aid to guerrilla fighters resisting the European puppet government. Under increasing pressure in both the European and American theater, the French forces withdrew from Mexico. On June 5, 1867, Benito Juarez entered Mexico City and established a new legitimate Mexican government.
As you can see, the history behind Cinco de Mayo is much more complicated than most believe. It has come to signify the Mexican ideals of independence and resistance to outside interference, as well as day to commemorate national unity. To uncover how some interpret the significance of this date, read the gripping story ‘Cinco de Mayo’ by Michael J. Martineck on Geeker.
How is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated?
Ironically, Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated in the US than it is in Mexico. The biggest celebration of all takes place in Los Angeles. The city of Puebla, where the battle took place, does hold quite the little shindig to celebrate the day. They have a massive parade where people arrive in Mexican and French uniforms, and they sell traditional foods and play national music. Throughout Mexico, the US and Canada, celebrations are held utilizing the colors of the Mexican flag, Mexican dancing, and Mexican foods. The day has become a symbol of solidarity for Mexicans throughout North America who no longer live in Mexico.
Margaritas, Salsa, Corona, and Sombreros are probably the most cliché of these items – and you’re sure to find no shortage of them that day. Don’t limit yourself, however. The Mexican culture is rich in tradition, and there are tons of foods and activities to try out and explore.
The music is probably exactly what you expect, however.
Some other Mexican foods to try:
Huachinango a la veracruzana, a red snapper dish. A delicious combination of African, European and indigenous influences.
Tortas ahogadas is another favorite. Picture it like a sandwich drowned in Chili sauce.
If you can get your hands on some, tejuino is an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn.
Morisquesta is a sausage and rice dish and my personal favorite.
Birria is a spicy stew with a heavy Spanish influence. Mic it up with some chicken, corn tortillas and lime and you have yourself a unique and tasty meal.
Do a quick search and see what interesting dishes you can find. The flavors and spices in Mexican food are so varied, there is sure to be something you will like.