Cinco De Mayo: Five Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Popular Mexican American Holiday

To explore the historical significance of Cinco De Mayo, we step back to the origins of the commemoration, share how some Mexican American Californians regard it and trace how it has morphed into the celebrations we see today.

By Edward Henderson | California Black Media 

To explore the historical significance of Cinco De Mayo, we step back to the origins of the commemoration, share how some Mexican American Californians regard it and trace how it has morphed into the celebrations we see today. 

Celebrations in the United States began in 1862 in Columbia, California, a small town located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Tolumne County, according to that town’s website. 

Today, millions of Americans celebrate Cinco De Mayo annually with 120 official celebrations organized across the United States. 

This day has become a cultural point of pride for Mexican Americans and other Latino communities in the United States. It serves as a time to affirm and celebrate their cultures with other Americans of all backgrounds as they highlight their contributions to American history and society. 

Joseph Soltero, a Mexican American living in Escondido, shared his perspective on Cinco de Mayo with California Black Media. He learned about Cinco De Mayo from his grandfather and talked about the extent to which his family and San Diego County community celebrate the holiday. 

“We knew September 16 was really Mexican Independence Day, but kids in my school would always mistake Cinco De Mayo as our Independence Day. [Cinco De Mayo] is not really even a Mexican holiday,” said Soltero. “It’s something people do to have an excuse to buy drinks, have fun and spend a little money at taco shops.” 

Soltero’s Grandfather always made sure the family understood the historical importance of the day to Mexicans and Mexican American immigrants, but it was never a point of emphasis when it came to celebrating the holiday as a family. Other traditions were more important to them. 

“It’s the Mexican version of Saint Patrick’s Day. Everybody is White and Irish on that day, and everyone is Mexican on Cinco De Mayo. It’s never been what Día De Los Muertos is to us. We celebrate the day of the dead. That is honored, that’s a tradition. Cinco De Mayo is just another day.”

Soltero believes that the best way for people to celebrate the ‘holiday’ is to educate themselves on what really happened on Cinco De Mayo. 

“I would love for people to do actual homework on it. Go still support us. Go to our stores and visit our restaurants — minus the ponchos and sombreros. Go spend money while you’re in that community, go learn while you’re in that community, engage when you’re in that community. Don’t just eat and forget about us on the 6th.”

Like Soltero, many Mexican Americans (and other Latino Californians) do not take the support and solidarity they receive from people of other races on Cinco De Mayo for granted. They also appreciate when people take the time to learn about the cultural significance of the day and avoid some of the cultural tropes that can easily whisper undertones of racism. 

To help raise your awareness about the origins and cultural significance of the day, here are 5 little known facts about Cinco De Mayo:

  1. Cinco De Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. It is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. This military victory on May 5, 1862, over the French forces of Napoleon III was hailed as a symbol for Mexican resistance to foreign influence. 
  1. The holiday was not given much historical significance outside of Puebla, and it has not been celebrated on a large scale in Mexico. However, during the Civil War, Mexican Americans in California, Oregon and Nevada who supported the Union drew inspiration from the victory over the French-backed Confederate forces. 
  1. The Chicano civil rights movement in the 1940s gave a new energy to celebration of the holiday in the United Sates as a symbol of national pride. 
  1. In the 1980s and 1990s, beer companies’ marketing strategies targeted Mexican Americans by encouraging them to celebrate their heritage – and Cinco De Mayo –with Coronas, Bud Light, and Dos Equis. This created the perceived connection between Cinco De Mayo, alcohol, and merrymaking. 
  1. Los Angeles hosts the largest Cinco De Mayo celebration in the country. 

As we join Mexican American Californians to celebrate Cinco De Mayo next week, let’s deepen our cultural understanding. 

With a greater knowledge of its history, we can approach our celebrations with more appreciation. Let’s use this occasion to commit to learning more about our neighbors, colleagues and friends of other races and ethnicities. 

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.