HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — For many, the holiday serves as an excuse to indulge in tacos, beer and margaritas, but what is the true history behind the celebration of Cinco de Mayo?
Before you celebrate happy hour on Friday here are a few things to know about the day as a Texan.
What is the significance of Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s May 5, 1862 victory over France in the Battle of Puebla. On that day Mexican President Benito Juárez left General Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza, a Texas native, to defend the city of Puebla from French invasion.
The feud began in 1861 when Juárez suspended the nation’s foreign debt payments, and Napoleon III responded by sending 5,000 elite French troops to invade Mexico in an attempt to make it part of a French colony.
Of those fighting on the Mexican side at the battle of Puebla, 500 were Tejanos. The victory was unexpected being that European forces were far more powerful at the time. For this reason, the victory for Mexico inspired national pride and became an important symbol of national patriotism.
It also gave the French and the rest of the world an idea of the Mexican national character, one that had been misunderstood and underestimated by the powers of Europe. After the Mexican victory, Juárez retained control of the central valleys of Mexico for over a year which had long-term damaging results to the dream of the French empire.
Cinco de Mayo is often confused for Mexico’s Independence Day by many Americans, However, Mexican independence is celebrated on Sept. 16.
How is this important to the U.S.?
The battle of Puebla was occurring during the American Civil War which is notable because the Mexican government was aligned with the Union.
“If the French had been victorious that day, it could have put a French emperor in Mexico City and that person could have been aligned with the Confederacy,” said George Diaz, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “That may have changed the dynamics of the Civil War.”
How to Celebrate
Since the victory in 1862, the state of Puebla has celebrated annually with good food, parades, mariachis and more. The state considers the holiday a celebration of pride in the ability of the Mexican army during a time when Europe dominated.
In the late 20th century beer companies such as Corona and Mezcal commercialized Cinco de Mayo as a marketing tactic.
Today many people celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a direct response to the commercialization of Latino culture in the U.S.
“People go to a happy hour and they have their chips and queso,” Diaz said. “It’s a holiday that doesn’t have a lot of depth beyond happy hour, but I think we can look underneath the surface and see a greater richer history.”