Many people think Cinco de Mayo (Thursday) celebrates Mexico’s independence.
Brentwood professor Dr. Montserrat Reguant wants to set the record straight.
“Most people assume Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain but that’s not the case. Their Independence Day occurs on September 16,” Reguant, Professor and Department Chair of Language and Culture Studies at , told Brentwood Patch.
“The celebration of Cinco de Mayo marks the victory of the Mexican troops over the French troops in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.”
The battle came after Mexico accumulated tremendous debt to England, Spain, and France and President Benito Juárez declared a moratorium on repaying funds for a two-year period.
“In response, representatives on behalf of the three countries agreed at the London Convention to recover the money by getting what was received through customs in Veracruz, Mexico,” said Reguant.
“England’s Queen Victoria and Spain’s Queen Isabella II honored the agreement, but France’s Napoleon III decided to incorporate Mexico into his French empire by placing his relative, Maximilian of Hapsburg, as the Mexican emperor.”
The French were ready to invade Mexico to receive repayment and establish new leadership, but they were “stopped and defeated by the Mexican troops in Puebla on Cinco de Mayo,” said Reguant.
Although the French soldiers outnumbered the Mexican soldiers, Mexico won the Battle of Puebla because of “enthusiasm, patriotism, and General Ignacio Zaragoza’s strategies,” she said.
Cinco de Mayo was originally celebrated only in Puebla, Mexico with “dances, flowers, and very rich food from indigenous, French, and Spanish cuisine,” said the professor.
Today, many wonder why Americans choose to observe the occasion.
“It started during the Civil Rights Movement when Washington was looking for a Chicano/Latino celebration. The Mexican Independence Day from Spain on September 16 was out of the question because several Latinos, mainly Cubans, did not want to celebrate against Spain because they felt close to it," Reguant said.
"Cinco de Mayo was selected and celebrated in Washington and other cities with Latino populations. Now it’s celebrated everywhere in the United States."
Donning traditional Mexican attire, Americans can typically be found celebrating at restaurants, bars, clubs, parades, and social gatherings throughout town.
Reguant recommended checking out Olvera Street in downtown for an authentic experience.
Regardless of how you honor Mexico on May 5, said Reguant, “Cinco de Mayo is all about freedom and liberty.”
Note: Olvera Street will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo on May 1-2 with food, dancing, music, and other various activities. Click here for more information.