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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo - Mariachi, Margaritas and Mole, Oh My!

Published by Catherine O'Halloran, Writer

Country: Mexico

The Experience

Despite the common misconception, Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexico's Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican militia's victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is more of a regional holiday than a national one, and most of the celebrations occur in the city of Puebla. Those parts of the United States with large Mexican populations will also enjoy the thrill of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which have become a bigger tradition than in Mexico itself. Cinco de Mayo is seen more as a day to celebrate Mexican culture within the United States.

The Battle of Puebla took place over forty years after Mexico gained its independence from Spain. The years following independence were riddled with war, strife and bloodshed, culminating in a civil war in 1858 that nearly destroyed the national economy. The decades of chaos and violence drowned Mexico in debt owed to a number of other countries, including France. At that time, France wanted to expand their empire and saw an opportunity in war-torn, debt-ridden Mexico, who had lost the ability to make loan payments. France seized on this weakness and invaded at the Gulf, near Veracruz. The French troops then began their long march toward Mexico City. Much to their shock, they encountered determined resistance near Puebla as two Mexican forts had been filled with militia men, intent on stopping the progress of the French. It is estimated that only 4,500 poorly armed, ill-trained Mexican militia stopped and defeated the trained, perfectly outfitted 6,500 French soldiers. This victory provided the Mexican nation with a sense of much-needed unity, which is the founding reason for the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Sadly, the Mexican victory was short lived. Napoleon the Third sent 30,000 more troops to Mexico; and this time the French were victorious and installed Maximilian of Austria as Mexican ruler. Thanks to the United States intervening, Maximilian's rule only lasted three years. Once the French were expelled, Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans, and his bullet-ridden shirt is kept on display to this day. Mexican people see Cinco de Mayo as a day to celebrate their national unity, won through such strife, bloodshed and loss.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo festivities involve music, food and dancing, and mostly occur in the city of Puebla. On the day of celebration, all Mexican men who serve in the army pledge allegiance to Mexico and the Mexican national flag. Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is always notably colourful as inhabitants come out to their city squares in traditional clothes accented in ever colour imaginable. One of the more common foods to find is called “mole” (a sauce made with chocolate and forty other spices). It is usually served over chicken or turkey.

Celebrations for Cinco de Mayo can begin up to a week beforehand with parades, banners and even schools holding special events to educate students. The day of Cinco de Mayo is filled with food, traditional Mexican music and folk dancing. In Los Angeles they hold yearly mariachi and folk dancing demonstrations. In the US, Cinco de Mayo celebrations are considered on par with St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest. Food, drink, dance and fun fill the air; a far cry from the dark times that led to this day hundreds of years ago.

Whether in Mexico or in the United States, the Cinco de Mayo celebrations are a fabulous, cultural event that should not be missed.

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When to Go to Cinco De Mayo

The only time to take in Cinco de Mayo is on the fifth of May. Whether you go to Mexico, Los Angeles or Texas, take a week in May and enjoy the Mexican festivities. Cinco de Mayo is not in danger of disappearing or ending any time soon.

Odds n' Ends

Aside from celebrations in Puebla, you can find Cinco de Mayo celebrations all over the United States. From Denver, to Colorado, to Arizona, there are many places to party.

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Japanese , Spanish are some of the languages spoken in Mexico. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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