The Truth about Cinco de Mayo

Viva Mexico!  Happy Independence Day Mexico! Right? Actually no.

Independence Day celebrations start in Mexico on the 15th of September with the reenactment of the “El Grito.” The entire country prepares and watches as the cry for independence that began by Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo, is staged again at 11pm.


getting your face painted in coyoacan on mexico independence day

for ten pesos, you get your face painted….

Then the celebration officially begins and lasts through the 16th, the Independence Day holiday, and sometimes even the 17th (Well it did for me). This September the fiesta marks the country’s bicentennial, two hundred years. After being in Mexico for prior celebrations, I can’t imagine a bigger party, but I plan to tweet from the inside this year and let you know. (fingers crossed)

So then, what is Cinco de Mayo?

The day actually commemorates the victory of an outnumbered Mexican Army over French troops at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  (Yes, On May 5th). Eventually France defeated Mexico in the conflict and installed a King (an Emperor). The US did not intervene and cited the Monroe doctrine because of its Civil War.  The US never recognized the government and it did not last too long, just a few short years.

But Maximilian, a member of the royal Habsburg family, did rule from El Castillo in the heart of Mexico City. Now the castle inside Chapultepec Park serves as the national history museum. Inside you can learn all about Mexico’s struggles for independence, its revolution, its civil war and its conflict against foreign powers including the US. Definitely worth a visit when touring Mexico City. Additionally, the museum provides outstanding views of the city and numerous amazing murals that tell the history of the country through art.

the painting details the french surrender on Cinco de Mayo

the painting details the french surrender on Cinco de Mayo

When I look back, I am very thankful for my Mexican friend and tour guide, an actual descendant from the French Army. She offered tremendous insight that day and on all my time in Mexico. You’d be surprised by the French influence on the country. I was.

OK, but then why the large celebration in the US?

It seems the mad men of Madison Avenue certainly know how to market, or maybe Americans just like to celebrate French military defeats? Perhaps, Corona wanted a pre-summer party to start the beach buying beer season? To be honest, I’m not sure. If you know or have an opinion, please share it. No matter what the true reason, the day marks little significance in Mexico outside the town of Puebla.

the Bandera…. Viva Mexico!

But who am I to stop a party? Especially one that involves tequila. Feliz Cinco de Mayo y Viva Mexico!

Stay adventurous, Craig

To see how I spent my Mexican Independence Day, you can read about my time in San Miguel de Allende. And also, after last year’s 200th birthday of Mexico, you can see my Mexican Bicentennial Tribute.

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  • Laurie

    Interesting question.

    Perhaps it started in CA….Mexico ceded CA to us in 1850 or sometime around then, maybe it was kinship for the victory against France.

    Also we love to make things commercial :o)

    • Emilia

      Actually the US BOUGHT California from Mexico for $15,000,000. The US also assumed $3,250,000 in claims American citizens had on the Mexican government. Americans got California, New Mexico and the Rio Grande was officially recognized (by Mexico) as the southern and western boundary of Texas. Before the war, California was actually not under Mexican control and Great Britain, France, and Russia had their eye on it. New Mexico was mostly inhabited by Indians; and the land from the Nueces to Rio Grande was basically a desert. Keep in mind that at the time of the Treaty (of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ), American troops were in possession of the capital of Mexico, so President Polk’s offer was very generous-considering also that many urged him to annex the whole country to the US! (What are American teachers teaching in schools? You guys need a Hispanic to remind you of your own History!)

      • stayadventurous

        Don’t forget other present day states such as Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Wyoming, were part of that Mexican Cession to the US after the war.

        Then of course, we did purchase more land, a small amount for $10mm in 1853 – The Gadsden Purchase. That finished the border.

        stay adventurous,

      • Jimm Budd

        Mexicans still tend to claim that the USA stole half of what had been Mexico. One can point out that what had been Mexico was once considered the property of the King Of Spain. Mexico became independent in 1821, although Spain did not recognize that for some time. After 1821, the USA offered to buy Mexico, which would have settled Mexico’s financial woes at the time, but the offer was refused.

      • Oscar Fernández

        Actually, the U.S. never actually bought those territorries. It actually was a compensation for damages caused by the war. The only land it actually bought was La Mesilla, which was a small part of what they actually wanted:

  • Kirsten

    I was unaware of 1/2 the things in this post and since I’ve kind of got a crush on Mexico now – this is good information! (How lame is it that I still want to go and celebrate Cinco De Mayo as usual w/ a lot of tequila though…I mean, I am an American. Who cares if we almost entirely made up the holiday!) Tequila!!

  • Maryann

    Very interesting article. It is good to celebrate and value another culture even if we are not sure about the event. What is really good, as an American, sometimes we celebrate events more than they do in their own country.

  • Jiimm Budd

    Not a king, but an emperor. Max´s brother was Emperor of Austria. Emperors rank higher than kings.

    • stayadventurous

      Yes, an Emperor, that is correct. It does seem to rank higher on the royal scale. I know I’d prefer that title.

      • Jimm Budd

        Yes, Emperors rank over kings. The Second German Empire (or Second Reich) has an emperor on top. That emperor also was king of Prussia. And I think Saxony, too, had its own king. 

      • Oscar Fernández

        Not only did they instaurate an emperor (and not a king), but they actually never defeated the Republic. There were still several points of resistance across the country, like in the states of Morelos, Tabasco, Guerrero, Michoacán, and especially in the north and center parts of Mexico (like Guanajuato, Querétaro and Chihuahua). There were also two simultaneous governments: The Empire, with Maximilian on top; and The Republic, with Benito Juárez as its head.

        fall of the rule of Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg is
        attributed to the
        liberal measures which issued Maximilian earned him the rejection of the
        Conservatives, with whom he shared the government without changing the
        beat for the Liberal Republicans. In
        addition to that, the withdrawal of French troops at a critical time
        when the Republicans were hostile and without reaching an agreement with
        them by which to recognize the Empire facilitated the recapture of lost
        the French invasion and the subsequent establishment of the Habsburg
        monarchy was made possible by external factors than internal. The French positioning plans overseas took advantage of the fact
        that the United States were engaged in the Civil War, which guaranteed they would not be in a position to support the Mexican federalists.
        However, at the same time would follow two crucial facts that would be part of the cause of the defeat of the French occupation:
        Federalists of the United States won the Civil War, being now in a
        better position itself to help with arms and logistics to Benito Juárez,
        who was then with his parallel government in Paso del Norte (now Ciudad
        Juárez) and thus ,
        the Mexican guerrillas began to defeat the French army in the
        battles of Santa Gertrudis, La Carbonera, Miahuatlán and the battle of
        April 2, among others.

        The Austrian Empire had lost the Seven Weeks’ War against Prussia in the previous year. With the new European scenario, the interest in French and Austrian governments to sustain a war in America was reduced.
        this we must add an Austria devastated by the loss of the
        Austro-Prussian war, so neither Francis Joseph (emperor of Austria) was
        in no position to help his own brother, Maximilian I of Mexico.

  • stayadventurous

    I also realized something else yesterday….Cinco de Mayo provides all of us (the U.S.) a chance to embrace our neighbor. To enjoy and understand the culture, cuisine, and of course cervezas of our friends below the Rio Grande.

    And for that (plus the tequila) I am all for it. Hope you all had a fantastic Cinco de Mayo.

    Que bueno,

  • Emilia

    Actually, Coors invented 5 de Mayo. In the 1960s, Mexican activists in Colorado boycotted Coors for, they contended, employment discrimination. Coors wanted to end the boycott, and also get college students to drink more beer in May. Voilà: Cinco de Mayo was born! May 5th is actually the Battle of Puebla, which is NOT a national holiday in Mexico. (According to my research, the Battle of Puebla began because a French chef demanded a large monetary compensation for Mexican military officers looting his pastry supply. So next time your local school, day care or college commemorates “5,” tell them they will have to distribute free beer to the participants! Cheers everyone!

    • stayadventurous

      I never heard this, so I googled it. I found this.

      Since Coors didn’t come to the east coast till the 1980s-90s, maybe that’s why ‘cinco de mayo’ was not popular in my youth? (I grew up in NY)

      Very interesting. Thanks for the input.

      stay adventurous,

    • Jimm Budd

      No, you are getting Cinco de Mayo mixed up with the Pastry War in the 1830s. There was a French cake cook who claimed that the Mexican Government owed him money and a battle followed. In it, Santa Anna lost a leg and became a hero.

  • Emilia

    Craig, David Saville Muzzey doesn’t consider these other states in his excellent book “An American History.” Anyway, it is hard to call it “cession” when the US paid $15,000,000 + $ $3,250,000—and this in 1848! Then there is Southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, that were purchased in 1853 (Gadsden Purchase) for an extra $10,000,000. (Keep in mind that the amounts have not been updated, but refer to the time when they were paid!) Mexicans should feel vindicated: according to the National Wilderness Institute 1995 report, the government owns more than 48% of Wyoming, 35% of Colorado, 63% of Utah, 29.42% of New Mexico, 40% of California, and 1.10% of Nevada. So much for the Founders’ efforts to free the people from the tyranny of government…

  • Kirsten

    Wow – Cinco De Mayo takes on a whole new light after alllll this new info!! Love the learning.

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  • Pat Hutches

    Thank you for all that information!!!! Very informative.

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