13 Surprising Cinco de Mayo Facts You Never Knew
Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican culture and heritage. But here’s what you might not know about Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco de Mayo basics
Cinco de Mayo means, yep, the 5th of May. As you may have surmised, we celebrate it on May 5th. What you may not realize is Cinco de Mayo may be a bigger holiday in the United States than it is in Mexico—though it does celebrate both Mexican and Mexican-American culture. This is the true story of the history of Cinco de Mayo.
What Cinco de Mayo commemorates
Officially, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s May 5, 1862, victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867), which began when the French invaded Mexico—at Veracruz—in 1861. France’s intention was to establish dominance in Mexico while the United States was preoccupied with the Civil War and then to provide military support to the Confederate cause.
What Cinco de Mayo is not
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Cinco de Mayo isn’t a national holiday in Mexico, although it is celebrated in certain Mexican municipalities, most notably Puebla and Veracruz. Nor is Cinco de Mayo the equivalent of Mexican Independence Day. In fact, despite the Mexican victory at Puebla on May 5, 1862, the French continued to occupy Mexico for five more years. Here are some more history lessons your teacher lied to you about.
The first Cinco de Mayo celebration
Historians believe that the first Cinco de Mayo celebrations were held by Mexican-Americans living in California during the American Civil War, and were not so much “celebrations” as political rallies held for the purpose of generating support for Mexico during the Franco-Mexican War, according to this report by Time on how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a historically accurate way.
1930s-1960s: Cinco de Mayo and the Good Neighbor Policy
Although Cinco de Mayo was observed throughout the remainder of the 19th and the first third of the 20th century, it really took off after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the “Good Neighbor Policy” in 1933, which was geared toward improving relations with Latin American countries. “Cinco de Mayo’s purpose was to function as a bridge” between the U.S. and Mexican cultures, according to José Alamillo, professor of ethnic studies at Washington State University (as reported by National Geographic). Its popularity grew in the 1960s when Mexican-Americans embraced it as a means of building their cultural pride.
1980s: The Corona connection
In the 1980s, beer companies, particularly Corona, recognized there were profits to be made on Cinco de Mayo through selling beer to the rising Latino population in the United States, according to Latina: “Through a series of well-received advertisements, Corona helped transform Cinco de Mayo into an all-day happy hour celebration, encouraging the growing Mexican and Mexican-American population to celebrate their heritage on May 5th by purchasing Mexican beer.” Corona still spends massive amounts of money on Cinco de Mayo-related advertising, and drinking Mexican beer is one of the great Cinco de Mayo traditions to try this year.
2005: Congress declares Cinco de Mayo a national holiday
Cinco de Mayo became an official U.S. holiday in 2005, when the U.S. Congress declared it as such and called upon the President of the United States to issue a proclamation that Americans could observe the day by celebrating Mexican-American heritage with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.” It is now customary for the U.S. President to host a Cinco de Mayo reception at the White House, complete with folklórico dancers, according to Latina. Find out the history behind another holiday that falls during the fifth month: What is May Day?
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Both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama used Cinco de Mayo to connect with the Hispanic community by holding celebrations and receptions (inviting Cabinet members, Latino celebrities, and Mexican Embassy officials to the White House), and to promote immigration reform. In 2016, President Obama had 500 guests, food catered by San Antonio celebrity chef Johnny Hernandez, and music by Mexican pop band Maná. Vice President Mike Pence hosted the 2017 White House Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Cinco de Mayo’s historical relevance to the United States
Although Cinco de Mayo is largely a celebration of Mexican culture in the United States, it is quite historically significant. Had it not been for the victory of the Mexican army at Puebla, France would have been able to turn its attention to aiding the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In addition, Cinco de Mayo is the last time that any foreign power has acted as the aggressor on North American soil (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor course took place in the middle of the Pacific, of course). Learn the reason we also remember American military veterans in May—the history of Memorial Day.
The nation’s biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations
The largest in the world is held in Los Angeles, California. It’s called the Festival de Fiesta Broadway, and it draws more than 600,000 people. Other major celebrations of Cinco de Mayo in the United States take place in:
- Chicago, Illinois
- San Antonio, Texas
- Denver, Colorado
- Chandler, Arizona (home of the annual Cinco de Mayo Chihuahua Races).
Because of its commercial success, other countries like Malta, Australia, the Cayman Islands, and Canada celebrate Cinco de Mayo as well.
Appropriate versus appropriation
The experts respectfully suggest that there are proper and respectful ways to enjoy Cinco de Mayo, and these do not include wearing sombreros and fake mustaches, or claiming the day is called “Cinco de Drinko.” Rather, to celebrate Mexico’s impressive culture and heritage, they suggest eating authentic Mexican fare, responsibly drinking a margarita or two, and most definitely listening to some of the wonderful music that comes from Mexico. And, of course, the best way to truly learn about Mexican culture is to actually visit Mexico; consider one of its most gorgeous and popular destinations.
Cinco de Mayo is muy bueno for commerce
Of course, Cinco de Mayo wouldn’t be complete without guacamole. In fact, Americans consume up to 81 million pounds of avocados on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission. Americans spend upwards of $2.9 billion on margaritas annually (that’s 14 percent of American cocktail spending), and the United States is the biggest tequila market in the world. As for cervezas (Spanish for “beer”), Americans consumed almost a billion liters of Corona Extra in 2014.
Cinco de Mayo by the census
In case you’re wondering why Cinco de Mayo is so popular in the USA, here’s a clue: The U.S. Census numbers the country’s Hispanic population at 56.6 million—nearly 18 percent of the total U.S. population; nearly 65 percent are of Mexican origin. If you’re curious about another well-known Mexican holiday, find out these things you never knew about the Day of the Dead.