What you need to know about Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today marks the 153rd anniversary of the Mexican army’s victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. While Cinco de Mayo — which, of course, means “fifth of May” in Spanish — is often associated with parties and alcohol, it’s important we not lose sight of its origins and what today actually celebrates. We think all cultures deserve to be respected, not stereotyped, and there’s a difference between appreciating a culture and appropriating it. The only way to make sure we don’t fall into the latter category is to constantly educate ourselves, and what better way to learn than through celebration? Cinco de Mayo represents so much more than what it has been reduced to (most notably, “Cinco de Drinko”), so here’s just a brief primer on the holiday and why today is so important.

The holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-67).

Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, the Mexican forces were outnumbered by about three to one, but still managed to secure an unlikely win over the French with comparatively few casualties. It wasn’t a major win in the overall war, but as the History Channel points out, it was a “symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.” A few years later, France withdrew from Mexico and Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed for General Zaragoza in honor of the battle.

Cinco de Mayo is predominantly celebrated in the United States, and regionally in Mexico.

In the state of Puebla, the holiday is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (or “The Day of the Battle of Puebla”). Across Mexico, celebrations include military parades and recreations of the battle — but as it’s not a federal holiday, the country mostly treats it as a normal day.

In the US, however, the holiday is often used as a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture, and for many Mexican-Americans, a day to honor their ethnicity. This is in part due to Chicano activists who worked to raise awareness of Cinco de Mayo in the 1960s. According to the History Channel, modern day revelers celebrate with “parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods.”

The holiday is not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day.

Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, which commemorates the Grito de Dolores (or “Cry of Dolores”) and the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence — but that event took place about 50 years before the Battle of Puebla, and is celebrated on September 16.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo, Gigglers!

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