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History of Cinco de Mayo

In 1861, Benito Juarez became president of Mexico. At that time, Mexico was financially unstable and Juarez was placed in a position of defaulting on loans to Europe. As a result, France, Britain, and Spain all sent forces to Veracruz, Mexico to try receiving repayment. Britain and Spain were able to negotiate with Mexico and pulled their forces out of the battle. France, however, was not. Under Napoleon III’s rule, France saw this as an opportunity to carve some Mexican territory out for itself.

With the belief that they’d take over Mexico, about 6,000 French troop members set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles under the rule of Charles Latrille de Lorencez. From his locality, Juarez rallied up about 2,000 loyalists and sent them to Puebla. This battle – which lasted from daybreak until early evening – resulted in the French retreating after they lost about 500 soldiers. In contrast, Mexico lost fewer than 100 individuals. While this success at the Battle of Puebla on May 5 was a triumph over France, it wasn’t a huge overall win. Rather, it was largely symbolic.    

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico Today

Today, Mexicans participate in Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Puebla and throughout the rest of Mexico. Traditionally, Mexican parades take place along with recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festivities. For many Mexicans, May 5th is a day like any other day. It’s not a national or federal holiday, which means banks, schools, and government offices are all still open.

What Cinco de Mayo Means to Americans

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is said to be simply a celebration of Mexcian culture and heritage – even in the parts of the United States that are densely populated by Mexican-Americans. Also, those who care to honor Cinco de Mayo do so by engaging in parties, parades, Mexican music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional Mexican food.

Is That the Same as Mexican Independence Day?

Interestingly enough, May 5th does not commemorate Mexico’s true independency. Mexicans became independent about 50 years prior to the Battle at Puebla. September 16th marks Independence Day in Mexico. That day is the anniversary of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s famous “Grito de Dolores”  which was an entirely separate Mexican call to arms.

Cinco de Mayo Study Resources

  • Cinco de Mayo Craftivities are a great way to artistically weave in some standards-based learning while unleashing your child’s wild side!
  • Ready to taste Mexico right in your own kitchen? Try cooking up these delicious Mexican treats. It’s like taking 7-layer dip and portioning it out into individual servings!
  • Pull math into your unit study with a pinata! Have your students each make predictions as to how many swings it will take to break the pinata. Then, let each student have at it and see whose prediction was the closest!
  • Looking for a nonfiction text unit to wrap up your school year? If so, you must see what we’ve pulled together off Pinterest for you!

About the Author

Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Science and is headed to grad school where she will obtain a Master's in English Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

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