Evolution of Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.

by Daniel Nardini

The Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is officially celebrated in 21 states across the United States as it is celebrated in Mexico. Known as the first Battle of Puebla, it was at this battle on May 5, 1862, that the Mexicans defeated a French expeditionary force sent against them by French Emperor Louis Napoleon III. But why did this Mexican holiday become popular in America?

Cinco de Mayo actually became popular among the Mexican Americans and Mexican exiles in California in the 1860’s as a rallying point against the French occupation of Mexico. At the same time, the Mexican victory over the French became a rallying cry among Mexican Americans fighting for the Union against the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). Many Mexican Americans in California had volunteered to fight for the Union against the Confederacy because many felt that it was also a fight against the French. When the U.S. Civil War ended, the U.S. helped the Mexican Americans and Mexican exiles fight against the French and help Mexico regain its independence.

Over the decades, the Cinco de Mayo holiday grew. As many Mexican immigrants moved to the United States, the Cinco de Mayo holiday became a focal point for Mexican heritage and Mexican pride. Those Mexican Americans who had been in California and in the southwest states of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, had made Cinco de Mayo not only an important historic holiday but also a commercial and cultural rallying point. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Cinco de Mayo had crossed over from being a celebration in just California and the U.S. southwest to being a celebration in Mexican American communities throughout the United States, and today is a major celebration in 21 states with well over 150 festivals across America.

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