Feliz Día de la Batalla de Puebla

girls walking with flags wearing purple and green
by Carla Vaca Pinacho
DEI Project Coordinator

As a Latin American woman born in Mexico but raised in the United States, I’ve always been curious about the history behind Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo, “Fifth of May,” and what the day truly means for Mexicans. After many years of asking questions about the celebration, this is what I found out.


women marching in the streets wearing red and white

Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexico’s Independence Day.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not our Independence Day. We acquired our independence more than 40 years before the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo began as a day to commemorate the Battle of Puebla, a conflict in 1861 between France and Mexico. At that time, the French were one of the most powerful countries, and the French Army’s goal was to take over our land. If the French had succeeded against the Mexican Armies, it is likely they would have invaded other countries, such as the United States. The stories shared from one generation to the next described that the victory for our country against the French was due to rain on the day of the battle, which caused their firearms not to work (whereas our army men were supported by Zzacapoaxtla people, which were only armed with machetes and other land tools). As a result, Mexico won the battle which led to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

The battle in Mexico was a victory for people in the United States too.

Why is this day celebrated in the United States? Well, for many Mexican immigrants in the U.S., this day is an opportunity to celebrate their heritage. After years of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans celebrating this day in select areas of the country, it has grown to be a widespread celebration around the country, specifically in states with high Mexican populations. Today, it is primarily a day used for people in business or restaurants to show a little bit more of their culture and attract people towards the Mexican heritage. But overall, most Mexicans save their party hats for September 16, our Independence Day!!!

This celebration is more than just a day in Puebla.

Every city and state celebrates this day very differently. In most places in Mexico, it is not celebrated at all, and most people that identify as Mexicans in the United States don’t celebrate it either. However, in the east-central part of Mexico, southeast of Mexico City, the city of Puebla does not let this day pass without a large celebrations and recognition. The city is known to celebrate the week leading up to Cinco de Mayo, along with holding a reenactment of battle the day of. Outside of that, the rest of the month includes large parades, parties, speeches and bullfights.

band marching with trumpets

How can you authentically celebrate Cinco de Mayo in your destination?

  • Know what you’re celebrating! There are common misconceptions that people might believe this holiday is for all Latinos, but it is only for Mexicans. It happened in Mexico and is celebrated by some (but not all) Mexicans. Then, after you’ve educated yourself on what makes this day special, raise your glass and toast the victors of the Battle of Puebla!
  • Get involved in a real way: Try our food, learn our music and experience our culture. Cinco de Mayo is a great day to do this – but it shouldn’t be the only day you take time to appreciate the rich traditions that Mexicans have brought to the U.S.
  • See it for yourself! Visit cities, restaurants and businesses that are filled with true Mexican culture. Some of the destinations that do a great job of authentically representing Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo include La Ciudad de Puebla, Mexico; Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; Saint Paul, Minnesota; San Antonio, Texas; and Chicago, Illinois!

One last note, I encourage you to comment correctly on the day. Instead of saying, “Happy Cinco de Mayo,” say, “Feliz Dia de la Batalla de Puebla,” which means, “Happy Day of the Battle of Puebla.”

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