Like Many Holidays in the U.S. Cinco de Mayo is Mostly Farce

By: Gabriela Gomez-Pedro

According to Urban Dictionary Cinco de Mayo is…

  1. A beer-fest that occurs on May 5 of the year, with lots of tequila and margaritas.
  2. A mayonnaise extract that is a rare delicacy in the southern United States. It can also be used as a sobriety test.
  3. When a whole bunch of white college kids get together and have a kegger for reasons unbeknownst to them.
  4. Mexico’s Independence Day
Photo: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images


First things first: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day (which actually occurs on September 16). Cinco de Mayo, or the 5th of May, is actually the day that commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over the French army in 1862. During the presidency of Benito Juarez, Mexico was in financial ruin and forced to default on its debt to France, Britain and Spain. While Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico over its debts, Napoleon III decided to use this opportunity to try and establish an empire on Mexican territory.

Napoleon sent an army of 6,000 men to attack the area around Puebla. In response, Benito Juarez managed to round up a group of 2,000 indigenous Mexicans to repel the attack under the leadership of Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza. Zaragoza led his men to battle the French army on May 5, 1862. The battle lasted one day and ended with the French army retreating from the battlefield after losing nearly 500 soldiers in the battle.


In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is mainly observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s victory occurred. For many Mexicans, May 5 is a day like any other; it’s not a federal holiday, so offices, banks, and stores remain open.


Zaragoza was born in what is now the city of Goliad, Texas, about 60 miles due north of Corpus Christi. In 1999, the Texas Senate declared it the official place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Though Americans have been celebrating Cinco de Mayo almost since the battle ended (especially in the West), it was largely unknown in most parts of the U.S. until the 1960s, when Mexican-American activists began raising its profile. Since then, it’s become a way to celebrate pride in the community.


Many people outside Mexico mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican independence, which was officially declared more than 50 years before the Battle of Puebla actually took place. That event is commemorated on September 16, which commemorates the anniversary of the revolutionary priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s famous “Grito de Dolores” (“Cry of Dolores”), which was a call to arms that amounted to a declaration of war against the Spanish colonial government in 1810.

Gabriela Gomez-Pedro is a senior at Christian Brothers University majoring in Mechanical Engineering. 

Posted by Josh Colfer at 1:55 PM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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