Myths and Truths behind Cinco de Mayo

Read up on the Cinco de Mayo facts to celebrate and honor Hispanic/Latino heritage in a more informed way.
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Myths and Truths behind Cinco de Mayo

 We’re offering you to read up on the history, meaning, and traditions of Cinco de Mayo in the run-up to the holiday and to bust a couple of myths in the process!

5️⃣ Origins of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo decorations in Old Town; San Diego, California
Cinco de Mayo decorations in Old Town; San Diego, California (image via shutterstock.com)

 

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are held in honor of Mexico’s victory over the French army during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). Sent to Mexico at the order of Napoleon III, the French were hoping to occupy the region and use it to expand European free trade and mine the land’s rich silver deposits. However, they underestimated the vehement force of the scarce Mexican army led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín and were defeated by the latter in Puebla on May 5, 1862. If it had not been for this incredible victory, the American Civil War could have had a different outcome. Unfortunately, the French did conquer Mexicans a year later and installed Austrian Archduke Maximilian and his Belgian princess wife as the emperors of Mexico. In 1867, however, the appointees were overthrown by President Benito Juarez, who refused to surrender to the French rule.

📅 May 5, not July 4

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican analogy of the 4th of July. In Mexico, the holiday is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla), while the traditional Independence Day of Mexico is called El Grito de la Independencia and is celebrated on September 16th – the date that marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence from the Spanish government in 1810.

📍 Celebration Spots

Cinco De Mayo Festival dancers performing in the town square of The Villages in Florida, USA
Cinco De Mayo Festival dancers performing in the town square of The Villages in Florida, USA (image via shutterstock.com)

 

 

Cinco de Mayo has a Spanish name and Mexican origins, but the festive events are mostly held in the United States. Since the 1960s, the holiday has always been associated with the American celebration of Hispanic/Latino culture and heritage, and since 2005 its historical significance has been supported by a resolution passed by Congress.

  • In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mainly celebrated in Mexico City and Puebla, where people re-enact historical battles and listen to political speeches.
  • The world’s largest-scale Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place in Los Angeles, California – it is the US city with the highest concentration of population of Mexican origin. The city blocks traffic on major downtown streets to hosts Fiesta Broadway and welcomes thousands of people to spend the night listening to music, dancing, enjoying Mexican food and crafts, and celebrating Mexican culture in many different ways.
  • Longmont, Colorado is also known for its Cinco de Mayo festivities – the city holds numerous events, including car shows and food festivals, but the main attraction is the fun Chihuahua beauty contest with its lucrative cash prizes and crowning ceremony.
  • Chandler, Arizona is also known for its Chihuahua-related event – the city holds a famous Chihuahua race with nonetheless lucrative cash prizes for the fastest dog.
  • Vancouver, Canada holds a skydiving boogie event with an air show and aerial acrobatics, a mustache contest, and more traditional food-and-drink-related festivities,
  • Sydney, Australia is known for its Margarita Showdown held at the Hard Rock Café, where five bars compete for the title of the best margarita maker, and regular patrons pay an entry fee to become judges and taste five versions of the drink before they vote for the best one.
  • Malta and the Cayman islands celebrate Cinco de Mayo, too, while the Spanish do not. They celebrate Dos de Mayo – a holiday that marks May 2, 1808 - the date of a key victory over the French.

🌮 Festive Food

Since Cinco de Mayo is mainly celebrated in the USA, the foods it is celebrated with are quite stereotypical:

  • US citizens consume 81 million avocados on Cinco de Mayo, mainly in the form of guacamole (according to the data provided by the California Avocado Commission).
  • 14% of the country’s cocktail sales are made by people buying margaritas on Cinco de Mayo – Americans scoop $2.9 out of their pockets to enjoy the tequila-based cocktail.
Margarita is a Cinco de Mayo staple.
Margarita is a Cinco de Mayo staple (image via shutterstock.com)

 

 

  • Tequila is brewed from the blue agave plant and made through the process of distilling that was introduced in Mexico by the Spanish in the 1500s. Before the European intervention, Aztecs for centuries had brewed pulque - a non-distilled beer-like drink made from a relative of the blue agave – the maguey. Pulque could only be consumed by priests. There is an Aztec legend suggesting that the invention of pulque involved a drunken possum who pulled nectar from the maguey; another legend said that it had been gods who had split the plant and showed the nectar to humans.
  • Margarita is a Cinco de Mayo staple; however, it was not invented specifically for the celebration. One theory of its origin states it was first made in a bar in Tijuana in 1938 to treat a beginner actress – she was allergic to every alcoholic drink except tequila but was unwilling to have it straight. Another theory suggests that the drink was invented by a socialite, Margarita Sames by name, and put on the menu in local hotel bars by one of her friends.

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