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What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?

Happy Cinco de Mayo! And on Taco Tuesday no less! Like most Americans, I enjoy celebrating the day (any excuse to celebrate is good enough for me!) but I wasn't sure exactly what we were celebrating... other than Mexican culture as a whole.

Most people think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day, but that's September 16th. May 5th is actually celebrating a small but influential battle won in Puebla, Mexico against the French army in 1862. Though small, it was significant because Napoleon III was leading the French forces (coming to collect on debts owed by Mexico), and thought the battle would be easily won. Mexican forces, a rag-tag bunch scrambled from nearby locations, were out-numbered 3-1 but still forced the French forces to retreat, breathing new life into the fight against the French. The defeat and expulsion of the French forces by Mexico occurred in 1867.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is seen as a day to celebrate Mexican culture, achievements, and experiences. There is a large commercial element to the day (What, in America? No way!), with businesses promoting Mexican services and goods, particularly food, drinks, and music. Other aspects of the day center around 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.

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 where 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 students 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.

Ironically, most states in Mexico don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. In Mexico, the people might get a day off of work, but commemoration of the battle continues to be few and far between, and mostly ceremonial, such as military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla is the exception to Mexico NOT celebrating Cinco de Mayo. They celebrate the event with an arts festival, a festival of local cuisine, and re-enactments of the battle which took place in their city.

However, just as Saint Patrick's Day is a day to celebrate Irish culture for Irish-Americans, Cinco de Mayo has become a day for Mexican-Americans to show pride in their own unique culture. Since it's not widely celebrated in Mexico, the holiday is more a Mexican-American holiday than a Mexican one. Either way, I'm happy I get an excuse to make extra tacos and wear bright colors... not that I need one.

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