The History Behind Cinco de Mayo

– and how you don’t offend an entire culture celebrating it!

By Mikkel Hyldebrandt


There is nothing wrong with having a good time. But there something wrong with appropriating a culture and offending it at the same time. So, here’s why you shouldn’t reinforce the stereotypes surrounding the holiday, and how you should celebrate instead.


Cinco de Mayo commemorates the story of how a community was empowered to beat all odds. More specifically, Cinco Mayo is the celebration of the Mexican victory over French troops during the 1862 French invasion of Mexico.


The background for the invasion was that Mexico was bankrupt after internal and external wars during the 1800s. President Benito decided in 1861 to cancel Mexico’s debts with Europe, which, of course, did not go over well at all, and France decided to invade Mexico.


The French troops made it to the city of Puebla south of Mexico City where they were faced by General Ignacio Zaragoza who led the Mexican forces. Even though the French vastly outnumbered the Mexican army, they somehow managed to defeat the invaders on May 5, 1862. Although the unlikely victory didn’t hold and France eventually claimed Mexico under the French throne, the battle at Puebla quickly became a powerful symbol of how the Mexican people were able to empower themselves and come together as a self-determined community against all the odds.


And so, the date became a day of celebration, but a minor one concentrated to Mexico City and Puebla, and it was dwarfed in comparison to the Mexican holiday May Day (May 1) and Independence Day which in Mexico falls on September 6.


It wasn’t until the 1960s that Mexicans living in the U.S. started to adapt the holiday as a convenient Spring festival that celebrated Mexican heritage and history at the same time. It continued to be a celebration for Mexican-American community until the 1980s where the holiday was commercialized big large corporations – mainly alcohol companies – to tap into the growing Mexican-American market. The same commercialization that made the holiday popular all over the U.S. also fed into the stereotypes surrounding Mexican culture, which created the weird ‘Cinco de Drinko’ fest we have today on May 5 that for many means getting shitfaced on tequila.


Time for a New Celebration?

So, before you go out and put on that sombrero, fake mustache, and poncho and line up those margaritas and tequila shots, take a minute to let the background for Cinco de Mayo sink in. Cinco de Mayo is undoubtedly much more than a margarita happy hour, and because it is a historic moment of pride in Mexico, no one should treat it any less. Imagine how people would react if another country marked an American holiday by binge drinking decked out like Uncle Sam – it doesn’t feel right, does it?


So instead, celebrate Cinco de Mayo for the moment in history, and for the bridge it is building between American cultures. Use it as an opportunity for you to get caught up on some pretty interesting history and strengthen the bond between the cultures that are being divided as we speak by a political agenda.


By all means, enjoy margaritas, Mexican beer, and tequila shots – but don’t parade around those stereotypes that are blatantly racist and make a mockery Mexican history. Show a bit of cultural sensitivity, and let’s honor the shared heritage of Mexico and the U.S. Now, that’s something we can all drink to!



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