Why is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated in the United States?

Whether you whip out the chips, guac, and tacos or enjoy a margarita, you probably already know that there’s more Cinco de Mayo than just enjoying Mexican cuisine. 

$658 million. That’s the total revenue from beer cases sold during the week of Cinco de Mayo in 2013. It’s no wonder that this holiday is sometimes nicknamed ‘Cinco de Drinko.’ The modern American Cinco de Mayo is a very festive occasion, but its origins are quite sober. While many believe that May 5th is Mexico’s Independence Day, this date actually commemorates the famous Battle of Puebla. Let’s look at what led to this famous battle.

Problems with Debt

President Benito Juarez came to power in 1861 during times of financial instability and debt in Mexico. A big part of the problem was the fact that the country had unpaid debts to European countries like Britain, France and Spain. Mexico was able to negotiate terms with Britain & Spain, but France decided to use the debt to justify an attempt to take over the country. Emperor Napoleon III saw it as an opportunity to expand French influence in the Americas, while establishing a Confederate-friendly empire to the south of the U.S.

The Battle of Puebla

Early during the occupation, Napoleon sent French forces to attack the small Mexican town of Puebla de Los Angeles. What seemed like an easy win for the French turned into an unlikely victory by Benito Juarez’s small outnumbered Mexican army. Pride swelled among the Mexican people as the French retreated.

Connecting the Dots to the American Civil War

While all that conflict was going on in Mexico, the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War. Union forces struggled at the outset and were fearful of how France’s invasion of Mexico might benefit the Confederacy.

Latinos living in Western U.S. states saw two wars (the Civil War and French Occupation of Mexico) that threatened their democracy. That’s why, when news of the victory in the Battle of Puebla surfaced, Mexicans in the U.S. united in support of both Mexican and Union forces.

Commercialization & Beer Companies

According to Time, U.S. beer companies in the 1970’s & 1980’s were looking to target their products to the rapidly expanding Spanish-speaking population. The recent surge in popularity in Cinco de Mayo festivities has a lot to do with brewing companies’ increased marketing efforts around the holiday.

The holiday’s historical roots and commercialization are the reasons why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States, even more so than in Mexico.

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