FRIDAY, MAY 5: Warm the tortillas and smell the tantalizing aromas of a sizzling Mexican kitchen—it’s Cinco de Mayo!
Today, Mexican culture resonates around the world: The American President officially declares the holiday; Canadians hold street festivals; Australians put on a cultural fest and Brits celebrate with a toast to Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to revel in Mexican food, culture, dance and music. Many American schools and communities hold Mexican educational events, and iconic Mexican symbols—including the Virgin of Guadalupe—are displayed. May 5 is also celebrated throughout the state of Puebla, in Mexico, though ironically, global recognition of the Mexican nation on this day didn’t start in Mexico: it started in the United States, where Americans of Mexican origin were commemorating a Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla, of 1862.
Spanish for the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo recalls the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. A true underdog story, Mexico was exhausted and in debt from years of fighting when its poorly equipped, outnumbered militia took on the well-outfitted, larger French army that hadn’t been defeated in decades—and won.
Though the win was fairly short-lived, it nonetheless gave Mexico’s army and people a much-needed sense of national pride that is still remembered today. Since the first local Cinco de Mayo parties hosted by Mexicans mining in California, the holiday has expanded internationally.
THE BATTLE OF PUEBLA: A BOOST IN NATIONAL SPIRIT
Decades before the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was at a tumultuous time in its history. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, internal political takeovers ravaged the nation. The Mexican-American War took place from 1846-1848, and one decade later, the Mexican Civil War left the country in financial ruins. Deeply indebted to several countries, Mexico was left with no means for immediate repayment—and, as a result, France’s desire for expansion was fueled.
When Mexico stopped paying on its loans to France, the French installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria, a relative of Napoleon III, as ruler of Mexico. French forces invaded Mexico and began marching toward Mexico City, until Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin and his small militia stopped and defeated the famed French army at Puebla. Though victory was short-lived, and Napoleon soon sent additional military forces to Mexico, the Battle of Puebla had boosted the national spirit.
CINCO DE MAYO: THEN & NOW
In the United States, Mexican miners living in California fired shots and fireworks upon hearing news of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, and the holiday has been celebrated in California ever since. When the Chicano movement crossed America, Cinco de Mayo awareness grew. By the 1980s, marketers began capitalizing on the holiday and Cinco de Mayo gained national popularity. Today, many countries of the world celebrate Mexican culture on the 5th of May.
RECIPES & MORE
Hints of lime, fresh salsa and warm tortillas bring the tastebuds to Mexico like little else, so this Cinco de Mayo, cook up some south-of-the-border cuisine!
Those hosting a party can find decoration ideas, food suggestions and more from Martha Stewart.
Vegetarian? Try this compilation of recipes.