Cinco de Mayo Is NOT Mexican Independence Day

by on May 5, 2013 · 7 comments

in Culture, History

cinco-de-mayo oldschool

Editor: The following is an excerpt from Brent Beltran’s weekly column Desde Logan at the San Diego Free Press. What follows is worth repeating as Gringos typically are kept in the dark about the history of a people a few dozen miles away.

By Brent E. Beltrán

Cinco de Mayo commemorates El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla) where in 1862 a ragtag Mexican army lead by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated a much superior and better equipped force of the French army. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. It’s not even a significant holiday in Mexico except in the state of Puebla where the battle took place.

After the great liberal Mexican president Benito Juarez decided to stop paying Mexico’s foreign debt for two years to help it’s near bankrupt national treasury France’s Napoleon III, pissed off by this move, decided to invade and build up it’s empire.

At the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe in Puebla state an 8,000 soldier strong French army, the best army in the world at the time, attacked the ill equipped Mexican army that numbered around 4,000. Somehow the Mexican army crushed it’s much larger counterpart giving the Mexican nation a huge morale boost.

Unfortunately, the victory did not last very long because within a year Napoleon’s 30,000 strong invading military defeated the entire Mexican army. This sent the Juarez government into hiding. Napoleon then installed Emperor Maximilian I to rule over Mexico.

But that only lasted from 1864-1867 as the remaining Mexican forces, with financial help from America once their Civil War was over, conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare that eventually unseated, captured and executed the wanna be emperor and his turncoat Mexican generals. On June 5, 1867 President Benito Juarez returned to Mexico City like a rock star.

The victory at Puebla has been celebrated in California since 1863 but really came into prominence in the 1940’s. It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s that Cinco de Mayo started crossing the US as Chicanos looked for a holiday to celebrate as their own. Defeating the invading European colonizers was reason enough.

It really took off in the 1980’s as corporations, especially beer companies, sought ways to sell their products to the burgeoning Mexican American community. Somehow, at some point, Cinco de Mayo started getting confused with Mexican Independence Day which is September 16 and celebrates the Mexican nation’s independence from Spain.

Cinco de Mayo is a relatively insignificant event in the annals of Mexican history. Día de la Independencia is much more important. So is Día de la Revolución Mexicana, November 20, which commemorates the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Yet somehow Cinco de Mayo has taken hold north of the Mexican border but not south.

Perhaps it’s easier for Americans to digest Mexican Americans celebrating an unimportant battle than it is to see us celebrating our independence or a revolution that was pretty much socialist in nature.

Regardless, Cinco de Mayo continues to be celebrated, though not quite honored, mostly by non-Mexican Americans and drunk college students throughout the United States. Like St. Patrick’s Day it is just another excuse for people to party and put more money into the coffers of alcohol companies. Hopefully, someday it will truly be honored and those that sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Mexican nation will earn the dignity they deserve.

This coming weekend, May 4-5, there will be numerous events celebrating Cinco de Mayo in San Diego. Most will be centered around drinking and others around commemorating the Battle of Puebla.

There is the usual Old Town Fiesta Cinco de Mayo which is free and runs both days (my buddy Pablo Garduño’s band, Alas de Mosca, will be playing there) and there is also two separate events going on at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park.

On Saturday the event is Cinco de Mayo: Cantos de Resistencia which will feature a film, music, poetry and art and the Sunday event Cinco de Mayo: Cultura Urbana which features music, food, art and more in a fiesta type setting.

More info on other local Cinco de Mayo happenings check out the event listings below.

May 5 from 12-6pm – $10 presage, $15 at the door
La Cultura Urbana Cinco de Mayo Festival
FYC and Twentyfive Stripes presents a music and arts day festival celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Featuring live music and djs from AZUCAR, Los Hollywood, Sonidero Travesura, Iabide, Saul Q, Beto Perez, V-Rock, Office Twins, and Pablo Stanley. Cocktails by El Dorado Bar. And live art by various artists. Benefiting El Centro Cultural De La Raza. Hosted by SaulQ and J40.
Centro Cultural de la Raza
2004 Park Blvd in Balboa Park
For more info visit.

May 5 @ 6pm – $15
Ritmo de Mayo Mexica Conscious Party
A conscious Cinco de Mayo concert featuring the B-Side Player, Cumbia Machin and Las Cafeteras with DJ’s Unite, Sloepoke and Beto Perez.
The Griffin
1310 Morena Blvd in Bay Park
For more info visit.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Andrew King May 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

I lived in the SF Bay Area for 23 years, from 1985-2008 (age 14-37). I was a high school teacher (Spanish, English, ESL) and a college professor (Spanish, English). I am passionately dedicated to issues involving education and politics. Cinco de Mayo annoys me, the way Americans and Mexican Americans dismiss it as an excuse to party. When I used to teach in Hayward, most of my Chicano students (and one Chicano administrator) thought it was Independence Day. The ignorance is staggering. The whole “Corona Day” joke just irks me too — 5dM is not about beer bongs and margaritas; the history of 19th century Mexico is too important to just dismiss for a salt-rimmed shot. I wanted to comment on this and direct people to my blog on the subject:

main blog page: http://askingquestionsblog.blogspot.com/

First 5dM blog: http://askingquestionsblog.blogspot.com/2013/04/cinco-de-mayo-uniquely-american-holiday.html

Follow-up 5dM blog: http://askingquestionsblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/cinco-de-mayo-revisited-mexicans-weigh.html

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avatar jon May 11, 2013 at 3:38 am

what makes me sad is when someone like me a true mexican celebrates this holiday for what it really is (not mexican independence) but gets called a gringo by a mexican because its exploited by the alchohol companies, therefore we as mexicans tend to not want to celebrate our own heritage because our own people dont know or understand what that holiday trully means to us…. ignorance is the sword that impales our people

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avatar Goatskull May 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

To be honest I don’t know anyone who still thinks its Mexican Independence day. Maybe 20 years ago. Granted most Americans only see it as an excuse to go out and drink Margaritas (even Americans of Mexican descent), but I don’t know any who doesn’t have at least some small idea of what it is. Ironically, in Mexico most people (seemingly) don’t see it as an excuse to go out and drink OR really care that much about its actual meaning.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Yeah, but Goatskull, what about the new kids on the block. Have you spoke to all of them?

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avatar Goatskull May 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

If you mean younger generations then I’ll admit Frank my answer is no. Perhaps I’m naïve here but don’t schools teach that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day?

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avatar Goatskull May 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I’m not arguing that there arent people out there who still think that but I just don’t seen to come accross them.

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