What is Cinco de Mayo, really?

corina It’s the beginning of May so you know what that means. It’s that time of year again. The time for Mexican inspired parades and parties, salsa (the food and the dance) and sombreros, tequila and tacos. Right? Only in America. While this is a big celebration in America, this is a very minor holiday in Mexico. In Mexico, this holiday is primarily observed in the state of Puebla. Traditional celebrations include military and local school parades and the reenactment of the battle. It is not the wild party it is in America.

I remember the year I lived in Puebla. I was in middle school at that time and I didn’t know the real meaning of this holiday but I participated in the parade anyway. About a month before Cinco de Mayo, schools and military forces would start practicing the choreography for the state parade and if you participated in the parade you got to skip class to attend practices. With that said, I was all in! I was more excited about having fun and spending time with my friends outside of the classroom than I was about learning the meaning behind Cinco de Mayo. As long as your family could afford the uniform for you to participate in the parade, most kids were in it for the exact same reason as me.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out Cinco de Mayo was the celebration of the Mexican army’s victory over the French army, at the battle of Puebla. After the battle, America helped Mexico in getting rid of the remaining French imperialist for good and restoring Mexico’s power. That is the origin behind why Americans, especially Chicanos (Mexican Americans) love to celebrate this day. However, the popularity of Cinco de Mayo over recent years in America is simply all about the marketing opportunities.

Over the past decade 25 million Mexican-American immigrants have spread beyond the southwest and marketers are attempting to tap into the estimated $220 billion spent annually by Mexican American households. While the beer/alcohol industry originally commercialized this holiday brands like Hallmark, Coca Cola, Frito Lay and even the American Dairy Association are now putting ad dollars towards Cinco de Mayo.

Still, many Americans mistake Cinco de Mayo as being Mexican Independence Day. It is not! Mexican Independence Day is September 16th which is a much bigger celebration in Mexico. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated in Mexico like New Year’s Day is celebrated in America. It is a national holiday, offices and businesses are closed, and there are fireworks and parties all day and night. So with all the marketing that surrounds this holiday none of it is based on building awareness, only transactions.

So while America has turned Cinco de Mayo into yet another pan-ethnic celebration which is used as a marketing ploy (right along with St. Patrick’s Day), let’s at least walk away knowing the reason we are celebrating this day. With that said, let’s go out tonight to eat, drink and celebrate life!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!!