May 4, 2021

Cinco de Mayo – A brief history

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, and for many of our American Qmee users, it’s a chance to celebrate and enjoy Mexican culture, Mexican food and probably a few margaritas. We’re sure many of you know that Cinco de May means ‘5th of May’ in Spanish, but do you know why the holiday is celebrated?

Some people believe it’s Mexico’s Independence Day. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not! Mexican independence is actually celebrated on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French forces of Napoleon III on May 5th, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla.

Here is the history behind the day…

In 1861 when the country was in financial turmoil due to years of internal conflicts, Benito Juárez, a member of the Zapotec tribe and a lawyer by trade was elected president of Mexico. Due to the position of the country at his time of election Benito Juarez was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.

As you can imagine the European governments did not take this act kindly. In response Britain, France and Spain sent fleets of naval forces to Veracruz, insisting payments be made. After some negotiating, Britain and Spain withdrew their forces. But France however, saw this as an opportunity to create an Empire out of Mexico.  

French fleets led by Napoleon III stormed Veracruz sending Juárez, into retreat but did not surrender. Juarez, rounded up a force of 2,000 loyal soldiers led by General Ignacio Zaragoza and sent them to Puebla to prepare for battle.

On May 5, 1862, French forces led by General Charles Latrille de Lorencez led an assault on the Mexican forces. The battle lasted a day and at sunset, French forces retreated after the loss of about 500 soldiers. The Mexican forces had suffered less than 100 casualties claiming them the victors of this battle.

Although the war continued, the victory at the Battle of Puebla offered great symbolic meaning and strength for the Mexican troops. In 1867 France finally withdrew their troops from Mexico.

Surprisingly Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico and is typically more celebrated in the US. Over the years it has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. The occasion is marked with parades, mariachi music, parties, dancing and traditional Mexican foods.

Now you know the history of the holiday, it’s time to celebrate!

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