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The History Behind Cinco de Mayo

+ how to respectfully take part in the celebrations.

By Ashley Sherengo, she/her

The biggest misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that it’s Mexican Independence Day, which is actually on September 16th, when Mexico declared its freedom from Spain. I wish more people took the time to understand the history of why they’re celebrating May 5th, because there is a rich history behind this notable date.

Cinco de Mayo is not Independence Day—rather, it celebrates Mexico’s triumph over the French forces during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  This was such a memorable win for Mexican history because of the size of both armies; the Mexican military seemed unequipped and was far smaller in size compared to the French forces.

Although the Mexican army defeated French forces during the Battle of Puebla, the victory did not last long. France went on and won the war. But this victory symbolized Mexican resistance.

Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, but it’s heavily recognized and celebrated in Puebla, Mexico, where the battle happened in 1862. There you’ll find massive parades, a festival full of music, food, and lots of dancing. They even reenact the battle.

I don’t celebrate every year, but when I do, I get together with my family and enjoy the delicious meals that my parents prepare! Typically they make traditional Mexican dishes like carne asada, ceviche, arroz rojo, etc., even though these are not traditional Puebla dishes.

If you want to respectfully take part in the celebrations, leave the fake mustaches and sombreros at home. If you want to indulge in the culture and celebrate, hit up your local, small, Mexican-owned restaurants and enjoy some authentic food. Swap the tacos for some mole poblano, one of the most popular dishes from Puebla, which is made with a dozen ingredients, including chocolate and chili peppers. 

If you’re going to take time to celebrate the holiday, take the time to learn more about the history and traditions of the holiday by following Mexican creators and reading up on the history of Cinco de Mayo, so your celebration is cultural appreciation instead of appropriation.