What Is the Celebration of Cinco de Mayo?
It is a festival of Mexican pride and heritage in the United States. Cinco de Mayo officially commemorates the anniversary of an early victory by Mexican forces over French forces in the Battle of Pubela on May 5, 1862. Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely victory occurred, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration.
Traditions include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events. For many Mexicans, however, May 5 is a day like any other: It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks and stores remain open.
It is not the anniversary of the defeat and expulsion of the French forces by the Mexicans, which occurred in 1867. It is also not, as is often assumed, the day of Mexico’s celebrations of independence, which are actually held on September 16. It is believed that the origins of Cinco de Mayo celebrations lie in the responses of Mexicans living in California in the 1860s to French rule in Mexico at that time.
On this day large businesses promote Mexican services and goods, particularly food, drinks and music. Other aspects of the day center on traditional symbols of Mexican life, such as the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Mexican-Americans who have achieved fame, fortune and influence in the United States.
One of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations are in cities such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver and El Paso in the USA’s south-western regions. In these cities, a large proportion of the population has Mexican origins.
Many people hang up banners and school districts organize lessons and special events to educate their pupils about the culture of Americans of Mexican descent. In some areas, particularly in Pubelo de Los Angeles, celebrations of regional Mexican music and dancing are held.
In the early 1960s, many Mexican-American activists entrenched in the country’s growing civil rights movement used the day as a source of pride. Close to two decades later, in 1989, an ad campaign by an importer of beers like Modelo and Corona was introduced around the day. The campaign was initially targeted toward Latinos but eventually broadened with print and TV ads. This year, Corona’s website featured a ticking “Countdown to Corona de Mayo” in the hours leading up to May 5.
The commercialization of Cinco de Mayo (and criticism of cultural stereotypes) has taken off. The research firm Nielsen reported that in 2013 Americans bought more than $600 million worth of beer for Cinco de Mayo, more than for the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day.
David Hayes-Bautista, a professor at U.C.L.A., published a book in 2012 titled “El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition.” In the book, he called “Cinco de Mayo” a “fake holiday recently invented by beverage companies.”
The holiday’s evolution from an earnest show of patriotism to a chiefly corporate celebration has been fitful, to say the least. “I’m trying to get a better sense of how that became so thoroughly lost,” Dr. Hayes-Bautista said in a phone call from Puebla, the site of the 1862 battle. “It’d be like if the Fourth of July were reduced to beer and hot dogs.”