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The True Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2017
News & Updates

The True Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2017

Over time, the Cinco de Mayo holiday has been adapted to also be celebrated in American culture. For American youth, the holiday is often celebrated in the classroom with piñatas and Mexican-influenced snacks. In adulthood, Americans typically spend Cinco de Mayo in the pub, dressed up in ponchos and sombreros while drinking tequila in excess.

Unfortunately, Cinco de Mayo has become commercialized in America with faulty reasons for celebration, and the importance of the holiday to Mexican culture has been misconstrued. Many are surprised to learn that while Cinco de Mayo is reason for extravagant celebration in America, the holiday is merely recognized throughout México. This is because Cinco de Mayo is often confused for México’s Independence Day. In reality, México commemorates its independence on September 16, while Cinco de Mayo – which is Spanish for “Fifth of May” – is actually a celebration of México’s epic victory over France in the Battle of Puebla.

La Historia: Día de la Independencia y Cinco de Mayo

Día de la Independencia

While the event does not mark the true day of México’s independence, the country celebrates Independence Day in recognition of the Cry of Dolores. The Cry of Dolores was a public speech made by Catholic priest Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, issued on 16 September, 1810. The speech called for a revolution against more than 300 years of land redistribution and racial persecution, placed on Mexicans under Spanish rule.

The Mexicans prepared for battle and nearly defeated Spain and the Royalists at Calderón. Miguel Hidalgo was captured and executed following the battle, but populist Mexican leaders continued to revolt.

One decade later, the Royalists ironically became allies to México and assisted in negotiating The Plan of Iguala. Under this provision, México became an independent, constitutional monarchy – but with limitations. Native Mexicans continued to be discriminated against, with lesser rights than Mexicans of Spanish descent.

On 24 August, 1821, the Treaty of Córdoba announced México as a truly independent, constitutional monarchy. The events leading to Cinco de Mayo did not transpire until 40 years later.

Artwork portraying the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo

Although México had gained its constitutional independence many years earlier, by 1861, the country was a financial mess, owing massive debts to the French, British and Spanish governments. In response, those countries sent military forces into México to demand repayment of debts. The British and Spanish troops retreated after México was able to negotiate with them.

Oppositely, the French abused the situation and used it as an opportunity to attempt to reclaim portions of México as part of the French empire. Napoleon III had a forceful agenda when French tropps touched Mexican shores in late 1861, with more than 6,000 soldiers poised to attack the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles.

To combat the threat, Mexican President Benito Juárez assembled an inexperienced militia of 2,000 loyal civilians, tasked with defending Puebla. Mexican resources were severely limited; they lacked weapons and equipment, compared to France's heavy artillery. But through grit and patriotism, the Mexican army was able to fight from dawn to dusk on 5 May, 1861. When the smoke cleared, the Mexican army had lost only 100 soldiers, compared to the deaths of nearly 500 French soldiers.

While the Battle of Puebla was not the end of French pressures in México, it was certainly a symbol of hope for the Mexican people. This revitalized an unwavering resistance against European rule.

By 1867, the United States had replenished resources exhausted during the Civil War and was able to provide support in México, forcing the French to retreat. To send a final message to the French, Mexican forces captured Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian – the former French-appointed Emperor of México – and executed him. This event pronounced México's independence.

Other Common Misconceptions

Many Americans also confuse the meaning of Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Mexican culture and the country's historical struggle as a social minority. This misinterpretation originates from the Chicano activist movement, which occurred in the United States in the 1960s. This social movement created awareness around Mexican heritage and the Cinco de Mayo holiday, as celebrated by Mexican-Americans. The activists were especially influenced by México's ability to revolt against the oppression of European rule, which is why Cinco de Mayo particularly resonated with their movement.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo: México y Rest of World

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo en México.


In México, the Cinco de Mayo holiday is primarily observed in the Mexican state of Puebla. Traditions include parades, re-creations of the Battle of Puebla, and other festivities. For most Mexicans, however, the Fifth of May is a day just like any other; it is not a federal holiday, and businesses remain open during regular hours.

Rest of World

In the United States, England, Germany and other parts of the world, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional Mexican cuisine. Some of the largest Cinco de Mayo festivals in the world are hosted in the United States – namely, in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

Theories suggest the reason Cinco de Mayo was able to latch onto global culture is because, much like St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest, it is reason to celebrate the cultures of those around the world. In turn, consumer behaviors, group-think and successful marketing have allowed Cinco de Mayo celebrations to explode in popularity across the globe – creating an environment for businesses to prosper and provide consumer goods. From alcoholic beverages to taco preparations, the food and beverage industry has exposed and capitalized on its niche, in support of this popular annual celebration.

Vortex Supports Cinco de Mayo

Read the case studies below to learn more about the role Vortex plays in creating your Cinco de Mayo party favors.

Flex Tube Diverter Handling Chili Powder

Wye Line Diverter Handling Rice

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