5 Facts About Cinco De Mayo You Probably Don't Know (But Seriously Should)

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What Is Cinco De Mayo? Facts About The History Celebrating Mexican-American Culture

Even if you don't speak Spanish, you probably know what Cinco de Mayo means in English ... May 5.

But while the name of this Mexican-American holiday is understandably associated with margaritas, enchiladas, and yes, plenty of muchachos y muchachas mingling, we should all be conscious of the fact that the day's significance goes deeper than being an excuse for a fun night out on the town. 

What is Cinco de Mayo's meaning in a historical context and why is it celebrated in both Mexico and the United States?

Dancing to traditional Mexican mariachi music and doing tequila shots without choking take practice, and understanding Cinco de Mayo's history takes learning a few Cinco de Mayo fun facts.

So here are 5 facts about Cinco de Mayo history to share with your friends and loved one as you celebrate Mexican-American culture together in style.

1. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.

Ask a random person what Cinco de Mayo celebrates, and you'll probably hear either "Two-for-one cervezas?" or "Mexican Independence Day?"

Wrong and wrong!

The latter is actually celebrated on September 16 — dieciséis de Septiembre — "to celebrate the 'cry of independence' on September 16, 1810, which started a revolt against the Spaniards,' and coming one day after the September 15 celebration of the "Cry of Dolores (Spanish: Grito de Dolores) ... a historical event that occurred in Dolores (now Dolores Hidalgo), Mexico, in the early morning of 16 September 1810 [when] Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church and gave the pronunciamiento (call to arms) that triggered the Mexican War of Independence."

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2. Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's victory at the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican war. 

General Ignacio Zaragoza led the Mexican army to defeat invading French troops.

On May 5, 1862, "the army of the liberal government headed by Benito Juárez" won the battle against "the French forces sent by Napoleon III to establish a French satellite state in Mexico."

The Mexican state of Puebla is in mountainous East-Central Mexico, well known for chapulas, mole poblano and being highly industrialized.

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3. The victory over the French was a really big deal.

Back to the battle ... At the time, the French army hadn't been defeated in nearly 50 years. They had fancy weapons and 8,000 men, but that wasn't enough to beat the 4,000 Mexicans defending Puebla.

And extra fun fact: there hasn't been a European military invasion in the Americas since.

4. The Battle of Puebla wasn't only a victory for Mexico — it affected the outcome of the American Civil War.

Many historians say the French ventured into Mexico not only because the bankrupt Mexican government suspended debt payments to France, but also because they saw an opportunity within the neighboring United States.

Author David Roos says, "Napoleon figured if he could get his hands on Mexico, it could become the first colony in a new French stronghold in Central America. Abraham Lincoln was busy fighting the Civil War, so the Americans wouldn’t stand in Napoleon’s way. Even better, with a French puppet government installed in Mexico City, Napoleon could provide guns to the Confederacy in exchange for Southern cotton, a scarce commodity in Europe thanks to Union shipping blockades."

Can you imagine what life would be like now if the northern Union states had lost the Civil War?

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5. People in Mexico don't really celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Many Americans throw huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations ... even though most don't know what the holiday's about, as is unfortunately fairly typical of Americans.

According to Wikipedia, "In Mexico, the commemoration of the battle continues to be mostly ceremonial, such as through military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla marks the event with an arts festival, a festival of local cuisine, and re-enactments of the battle."

The popularity of this celebration of Mexican-Amercian culture within the U.S. shouldn't be mistaken for mere cultural appropriation, however.

As explained by the editors of History.com, "Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans (such as Juárez) over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla."

Some of the biggest celebrations and festivals take place in Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

For more facts behind the meaning of Cinco de Mayo, check out this video.

Amanda Green is a writer with experience in copywriting, branded content, social media, and editorial.

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