What it’s Not
I dare you to walk up to a random person on the street on May 5th and ask them what they think Cinco de Mayo celebrates. They would probably guess that it celebrates Mexico’s independence, which would be incorrect. This holiday is probably one of the most celebrated and least understood holidays in the world. What is the meaning behind it? How is it celebrated and what does it mean to Mexicans?
What it Is
Cinco de Mayo (in English, “The Fifth of May”) is a Mexican Holiday celebrating the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. Though the French army was much larger and better trained than the Mexican army, the Mexicans made a bold stand and won a huge and unlikely victory. The battle raged on for six years, until the French were defeated for good, ending their attempts to colonize Mexico. (1) So how is Cinco de Mayo celebrated today, 150 years later?
Join in the Celebration…
In Mexico City and Puebla, you will find historical re-enactments, parades with vibrant costumes, music, and dancing, and traditional food like mole poblano and chalupa. In the U.S., schoolchildren do projects, decorate their classrooms, and try cooking some basic Mexican dishes. Others use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse of a holiday they don’t fully understand to throw large parties with food and drink. While we’re all for partaking in the good gifts of life, we invite you to celebrate respectfully and mindfully for what the holiday represents.
…But Please Celebrate Respectfully
Claudia Sandoval, the winner of MasterChef U.S. season six and best-selling author of the cookbook Claudia’s Cocina: A Taste of Mexico, says “One of the wonderful things about Mexican culture is that we love to share our holidays and customs with other people,” she says. “We are the type of culture that welcomes you into our home, and however humble our plates, or offerings, you will always feel welcome to partake in familial and cultural activities.”
However, it’s still important to make sure you’re participating in a respectful way. “As you choose to celebrate and partake in cultural holidays, we recommend doing your research and understanding the meaning behind those customs, and reasons for celebration,” Sandoval says. “Cinco de Mayo isn’t about celebrating independence. It is about celebrating the ability to stand up to forces beyond measure.”(2)
Ways to Celebrate Respectfully
Here are some practical ways you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo, enjoying the good gifts of life while honoring the meaning behind the holiday:
- Share the Real Story: A Day ultimately celebrating bravery and victory, not piñatas and tacos (though we enjoy those things, too)
- Support Mexican Businesses: Skip Taco Bell and support an authentic, local Mexican Restaurant.
- Support Mexican Arts and Museums: Experience the rich Mexican culture through art.
- Eat the Food! Though the holiday remembers people and not food, food is a huge (and delicious) part of the Mexican culture, so please eat up.
Happy Cinco de Mayo, from Cultural Bytes to you and your family!