Cinco de Mayo: Do you know its origin?
If you’re planning to drink margaritas, dance the salsa, and enjoy Mexican cuisine this Cinco de Mayo, all in the name of Mexican independence, you may just be celebrating the wrong holiday.
Many Americans think of May 5 as similar to the United States’ Fourth of July. The real Mexican Independence Day, however, is Sept. 15, when Mexicans celebrate their country’s declaration of independence from Spanish rule in 1810.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates another important day in Mexico’s history, Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. At the time, the aggressive French army had occupied Mexico since the end of the Mexican-American war in 1846. Mexico was heavily in debt to France.
After President Benito Juarez declared bankruptcy, Mexico could not pay off any foreign debt and the French army invaded several Mexican towns. The Battle of Puebla marked one of the few times Mexico successfully defeated the French.
“Cinco de Mayo is just one important event in Mexican history,” said Gerardo Castillo Velazquez, community advocate at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center in Dillon, who was born in Aguas Calientes, Mexico.
“Kids in Mexico learn about Cinco de Mayo in school, but Sept. 15 is a much more important holiday. There are big town celebrations with fireworks and the president speaks from a balcony.”
Jorge Capacete, a waiter at Acapulco Mexican Restaurant in Frisco, said he doesn’t understand why Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo instead of Sept. 15. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Capacete has lived in the U.S. for 30 years.
“When I was in high school in California, there would be huge parties for Cinco de Mayo. I saw Chinese, black, and white kids all dancing to Mexican songs. Everyone thought they were celebrating Mexican independence.”
Capacete said he will be working on Cinco de Mayo, but likely will meet up with friends afterward to celebrate with some Mexican tequila. His restaurant is one of a few in Summit County to offer special prices on Mexican beer and tequila in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Joanne Munoz, owner of Tienda Munoz in Frisco, said several people have come into her store, which carries various goods from Mexico, looking for frilly party dresses.
“I guess there are parties going on for Cinco de Mayo, but I think the Americans probably celebrate more than the Mexicans,” she said. “To some Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo isn’t that much of a celebration because the Mexicans still lost the war to the French.”
Perhaps the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the county is Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant’s annual fund-raising party for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
About 300 people attended last year’s event.
“People come to see us for Cinco de Mayo for the party and the food, and it’s a good opportunity for us to have the fund raiser,” said manager Sean Damon.
“But I don’t think anyone really has a historical reason for coming. Cinco de Mayo is more of a Mexican-American holiday than a Mexican holiday.”
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