The backstory of Cinco de Mayo

The significance of the holiday for those who celebrate it


Photo Courtesy Obama White House Archives via Creative Commons

Julieta Dentone, Author

Cinco de Mayo is a widely known holiday in the United States that is celebrated yearly on May 5 with bright colors, Mexican culture, and pride to fill the day. Even though people know how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated, they misunderstand why is it celebrated. Most tend to think the purpose of Cinco de Mayo is to celebrate Mexico’s independence, but it is actually to celebrate France’s failed attempt in invading Mexico City, and how a small Mexican army managed to stop them.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated because in 1861, Mexico was going through a financial crisis, and they had to pay France, Great Britain, and Spain. All three countries were going to invade, but Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their troops. However, France, that was ruled by Napoleon III at the time, decided to use Mexico’s debt against them, and tried to build an empire there. They started invading, forcing the Mexican troops to retreat more and more, until they reached the city of Puebla.

“The French army was about four days from Mexico City when they had to go through the town of Puebla, and as it happened, they didn’t make it,” explains David E Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine at UCLA. When the French troops went to Puebla, the were greeted by 2,000 poorly supplied, yet loyal, Mexicans that were ready to fight 6,000  French soldiers. says, “the Battle of Puebla on May 5 represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government” because logistically, the French troops should have won, but the ragtag Mexican soldiers defied that. They managed to get the French to retreat, and they only lost around 100 soldiers, while the French lost almost 500.

This battle was a huge win, as it showed that pride, love, and loyalty, and helped the resistance that was growing in Mexico at the time. Sophomore Amaris Vargas, who is part of the Spanish Native Speakers classes, says “Events like this are not only important because it shows the soldiers love for their country, but it shows how everyone looked down upon the Mexicans, and how they still managed to win, even though all odds were against them.”

The Battle of Puebla and Cinco de Mayo itself shows how big of a win this specific battle was for the Latino community, especially since they were always looked down upon at the time of the battle. They get to celebrate how people like them fought a  country that was almost guaranteed to win, and how they defeated them.