In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is frequently confused with Mexican Independence Day, which occurred 50 years earlier, in the fight for independence from Spain. Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican army victory in the "Batalla de Puebla" against the French in 1862, during the French occupation of Mexico.
After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, a devastated Mexico found itself owing other countries vast sums of money. In 1861, Mexican president Benito Juarez announced that Mexico would not pay its debts to other nations for two years. England, Spain and France then invaded the country to get payment. The Spanish and English eventually left, but Napoleon III of France left his troops in Mexico in order create a French empire in the beleaguered country. In preparing to take over the country, the powerful French army advanced from Vera Cruz toward Mexico City, assuming that the Mexicans would give up without a fight. But on May 5, 1862, in the fortified city of Puebla, a poorly equipped army of 5,000 Mexicans defeated the overconfident French troops. Although this did not end the French occupation, the victory came to symbolize the Mexican people's determination to remain free from foreign control.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated across the United States with parades, music, Mexican food, arts and crafts, and traditional and modern dancing. Many cities and towns have annual festivals to commemorate the day, which focus more on Mexican culture and pride in heritage than on the battle against the French.
This is a day to dress up, eat, listen to music and dance in Mexican tradition. If your community does not sponsor an annual Cinco de Mayo festival, plan a Cinco de Mayo party of your own.
For any party you'll need food. There are excellent Mexican recipes on the Internet. Try these sites to start:
You'll also need some great Mexican music. Choose between Corridos (ballads), Música norteña, Tejano or Rock en Español.
Finally, find someone who knows some Latino dance steps, practice up a little and then baile!