Cinco de Mayo fiestas abound north of the border. But do you know the history of this Mexican holiday and how it came to be popular in this country? Here are five interesting tidbits about one of our favorite holidays:
Cinco de Mayo 101
The holiday commemorates the victory of a Mexican army over the French in Puebla (east of Mexico City) on May 5, 1862, during a period of political unrest that left Mexico nearly broke. Earlier, President Benito Juarez had suspended payment on all foreign debt, while several countries attempted to invade Mexico – only the French persevered with the intent of building an empire in North America. Mexico's jubilation over its Puebla win didn't last. The French later occupied Mexico and ruled it until 1867.
Cinco de Septiembre?
Like identical twins, Cinco de Mayo and Dieciséis de Septiembre often get mixed up. The latter holiday, Sept.16, celebrates Independence Day. Mexico's struggle to break free from Spanish rule finally came to fruition that day in 1810. In Mexico, 16 de Septiembre is by far the most significant and celebrated on a wider scale, as opposed to Cinco de Mayo.
Cultural pride or just plain fiesta?
Although Mexican immigrants celebrated Cinco de Mayo even back in the 1860s, some researchers attribute the first recognized festival to California college students who adopted the holiday as a way to honor their Mexican heritage during the 1960s, a decade of cultural and political awakening for the sons and daughters of immigrants. Critics today say the holiday has succumbed to commercialism (margaritas and sombreros, anyone?) and various efforts are underway across the country to promote the original meaning of the holiday.
A celebration for every taste
Los Angeles holds what is promoted as the largest worldwide Cinco de Mayo celebration, which attracts more than a half million festival-goers each year. Many other cities hold other unique events. In Chandler, Ariz., the Cinco fiesta showcases Chihuahua dog races and in Dallas, throngs of Texans turn out to watch a parade with floats, a marching band and cheerleaders. Texans claim a special connection to the holiday: the general who led the Mexican army was Ignacio Zaragoza, born in what is now the Goliad region of the state.
Food, food and more food
No Cinco de Mayo fiesta is complete without such food staples such as tacos, tostadas, flautas. Another favorite? Guacamole served with corn chips or as a side dish. This year, revelers are expected to use an estimated 81 million pounds of avocados, according to the California Avocado Commission. (We’re definitely not complaining about that. Pass the dip!)