Arts/Culture
11:02 am
Thu May 5, 2011

Origins of Cinco de Mayo

We were curious in the newsroom this morning, how did we come to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? A little digging gave me the answer...

"I know I owe you money, but you're going to have to wait."

Imagine if the U.S. government declared to its debtors that it wasn't going to pay on its loans for two years.

Countries like China, Japan, and the United Kingdom probably wouldn't be too happy - they might even send warships to the U.S. coasts demanding their money.

O.k., totally far-fetched, I know. But similar events in the 1860s led to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

From the University of California at Los Angeles:

On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume. The English, Spanish and French refused to allow president Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary.

The English and Spanish negotiated and eventually left Mexico, but the French stayed and fought to expand the French empire into Mexico under Napoleon III.

On May 5th, 1862, an outnumbered Mexican army defeated 6,000 French soldiers in a battle at Puebla de Los Angeles.  The History Channel says the battle was a big morale booster for the Mexican government:

Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, [the] success at Puebla represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.

In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of Mexican heritage (and an excuse to have a little tequila). The History Channel write up says celebrating the holiday in the U.S. picked up steam in the 1960s:

Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla.

So there's a little history.

You can find some ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Michigan at A Healthier Michigan (do they make a healthy margarita?)