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Story of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a very misunderstood holiday.  Many people mistake Cinco de Mayo as the Mexican Independence Day.  Mexico actually celebrates its independence from Spanish rule on September 16.  Also, Cinco de Mayo is not really a huge celebration in Mexico.  There are some places that do celebrate this day, but while it is a nationally recognized holiday, it is not a huge celebration in most parts of Mexico.  


In order to understand more about Cinco de Mayo, we need to understand a bit about Mexico’s history.  Mexico was first a colony of Spain from which it gained its independence in 1810.  This is celebrated on September 16 as Mexico’s Independence Day.  


Years after that in 1861, the country was facing some difficulties and the President, Benito Juarez made the declaration that any debts were being put on hold and Mexico would not be paying any money for a period of time. With this declaration, the countries that had loaned money to Mexico immediately came to Mexico to ask for payment.  While most countries were able to come to an agreement, France under the leadership of Napoleon III decided that it would be a good time to come and establish its empire in Mexico.


Shortly after, French troops arrived in the port of Veracruz and started working their way towards Mexico City to take over the government.  Obviously, Mexico did not want France to take over and they fought back.  The Mexicans were able to gather about 4,000 troops under the leadership of Ignacio Zaragoza and waited for the French in Puebla.  The French army was almost twice the size of the Mexican Army, but because they knew the territory and were fighting for the land that they loved, the Mexican army was able to win the Battle for Puebla.  The French retreated and Mexico was safe (for the time being).


Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.  A year later, France came back with 30,000 soldiers and this time were able to take over Mexico.  Then a few years later, France decided they didn’t want to rule Mexico anymore and left.  Mexico became an independent country again (and Benito Juarez was reestablished as President).


As you can see, the Battle for Puebla was a great victory for the Mexican people and it was established as a national holiday.  Schools are closed and there are often small parades in memory of this great moment.  However, the main celebration of this day came from someplace unexpected.  Almost a year after the fight in Puebla, the Mexican people working in the mines in California heard about the victory.  Their sense of national pride sparked a great celebration.  From that time on, the Mexican people living in California celebrated their homeland on Cinco de Mayo.


The celebration grew over the years.  In California, there are many parades and celebrations for this day.  The popularity of the holiday spread and soon people of Mexican descent all over the United States joined in the celebration.  Cinco de Mayo has become an American celebration of Mexico.  Many people celebrate with parades, celebrations, or eating Mexican food.  Many schools do activities that honor the Mexican heritage on this day.  

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