Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. So why does the United States celebrate it more?


USA TODAY 05 May, 2021 - 09:15am 17 views

What is the meaning of Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo, (Spanish: “Fifth of May”) also called Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, holiday celebrated in parts of Mexico and the United States in honour of a military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III. britannica.comCinco de Mayo | History, Celebrations, & Facts

It's the anniversary of the day Mexico defeated the French army in 1862, but it's turned into a day in America for margaritas and sombreros.

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Cinco de Mayo seems to get bigger every year -- at least in the United States. In Mexico, it's a different story.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t commemorate Mexico’s Independence Day. 

May 5 marks the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16.

A 2018 survey by showed only 10% of Americans knew the true reason behind the holiday, yet it has turned into a day where people can get cheap margaritas and wear sombreros.

“Most people drinking in the bars have no idea that it's celebrating the strength in the power and the resilience of Mexican people to overcome invaders who are trying to take their land,” said Alexandro Gradilla, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Fullerton. 

French Emperor Napoleon III wanted to claim Mexican territory for himself and sent his troops to force Mexico's President Benito Juárez and the government out of Veracruz.

On May 5, 1862, in Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico, 6,000 French troops faced 2,000 Mexican soldiers at daybreak. By the evening, Mexico had claimed victory.

Days later Juárez declared May 5 a national holiday.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo was not always like this, and in fact was something Mexican Americans celebrated in the mid-1800s as an act of resistance.

“They began to celebrate that holiday because they also wanted to commemorate their acts of resistance during the U.S.-Mexico war, but also holding their own after incorporation," Gradilla said. "After Mexican Americans who decided to stay after 1848 and become U.S. citizens, they realized that all the promises the U.S. had made to them were not going to come true. They were not going to be treated as equals.

“The fact that you had Mexican communities in the southwest celebrating Cinco de Mayo was very powerful and very symbolic because what that war was about was David vs. Goliath,” he said.

Racquel Soto, 30,  was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 15. Soto later became a U.S. citizen and said the American way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo still confuses her. 

“I was born near the town where this historic battle took place. My Zapotec ancestors died there, and I came to the U.S. to find all these white Americans drinking margaritas and hitting piñatas,” Soto said.

Across the country, restaurants will host Cinco de Mayo specials and cocktails for the holiday. Chili’s is promoting $5 Margaritas all day while Barberitos is offering free cheese dip to customers. Chipotle brought back its popular trivia game with 250,000 buy-one-get-one-free coupon codes available and will offer five $500 gift cards on its Instagram page. 

The celebration of a holiday most Americans don’t understand is what Soto said she finds offensive.

Advertising and decorations about the holiday focus on the “party” aspect rather than the cultural and historical significance, Soto said. Her biggest pet peeve when it comes to the holiday? When people call it "Cinco de Drinko.”

Growing up in Mexico, Soto said her family celebrated the holiday by cooking with family, dancing the national “Jarabe Tapatio” or Mexican hat dance and praying over their ancestors. When she can, Soto said she educates her American friends about the Mexican battle and victory on May 5. 

“I don’t care how much Corona advertises their beers and parties. Cinco de Mayo is not just an excuse to party. People lost their lives on Mexico’s soil,” Soto said.

There is no exact point in time when deals on Corona’s and carne asada were available at grocery stores, but in “Studies in Symbolic Interaction,” José M. Alamillo points out how the beer companies Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller spent nearly $38 million in the 1980s in Hispanic advertising that contributed to the commercialization of the holiday.

Gradilla, whose expertise includes racialization, cultural competency and institutional racism, said the advertisements these companies made to market the holiday helped create a false sense of representation for Mexicans and turned the holiday into a Mexican St. Patrick’s Day.

“What's sad is that most Mexican Americans and most Latinx people don't even realize that it was originally started as a political event about resistance and about fighting against the odds,” he said. “That's kind of one of the downsides of multiculturalism and diversity is that when your holiday gets included, it gets reduced down to sales on tortillas, sales on beer, sales of all you can eat at El Torito. It doesn't talk about the community that has been here and survived.

“Cinco de Mayo isn’t doing that, American racism is doing that,” he added.

It’s American commercialization that makes Gradilla worry Juneteenth will have the same fate Cinco de Mayo has, but holidays like that and Martin Luther King Day need to be remembered for their political intent, he said.

However, Gradilla said he believes the spirit of Cinco de Mayo is still alive in places like Arizona and Georgia, where Latinx voters played a significant role in the election of President Joe Biden. 

For Mexican-American Diana Garcia, the holiday gives her a chance to celebrate her culture and identity. Garcia’s parents immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico 20 years ago. Garcia is the first in her family to be born in the U.S. 

She and her family take the day to reminisce about Mexico, host a Mariachi band in their backyard and enjoy Birria tacos for dinner. Birria, usually made from goat meat, is a staple meal in Jalisco.

“It’s not like this is for everyone, but for me it’s an extra day to celebrate Mexico without being there,” Garcia said.

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Cinco de Mayo: A guide to Seattle's popular Mexican restaurants 05 May, 2021 - 12:55pm

Cue the housemade tortillas and salted margarita rims, we're celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Seattle. And right off the bat we will clear the misconception that the day commemorates Mexico's independence — that would be in September. 

Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, is an annual celebration observed to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862. The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger French force was an enormous boost to morale.

Of course, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has morphed into a significance beyond that in Mexico. Even more popularly celebrated in the United States, the date has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture.

Beginning in California, these celebrations have been observed annually since 1863, and gained nationwide popularity in the 1980s, mostly thanks to advertising campaigns by beer and wine companies. Today, Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl.

Here in the Emerald City, we're celebrating Mexican-American culture by ordering from our favorite Mexican restaurants. Not sure where to go? Here's a look at the most popular restaurants in each neighborhood.

This local chain dishes out Southwestern-Mexican cuisine under lively digs. Cactus is the dependable go-to for all brunch, lunch, and dinner dining accompanied by slushy margaritas spiked with lime, pineapple, coconut, peach, and sparkling wine.

An easygoing taqueria, El Borracho hoists up a lengthy list of taco options — for both meat-lovers and vegans — complemented by eight margarita options, including flavors like that of cucumber honeydew, hibiscus, the $4 "El Cheapo" on tap.

Meat lovers, rejoice: Al pastor, carnitas and carne asada are the name of the game at this friendly spot that specializes in juicy, right off the bone meats. But for those less inclined, they have bean and veggie options.

With two locations near the downtown core, this lively spot boasts sizzling fajitas, delicious Mexican-style chicken wings and gigantic chimichangas that don't skimp on the toppings.

And for those looking for libations on this joyful holiday, their bar is extremely impressive with an extensive selection of tequilas and mezcals. The portions are huge, so come hungry.

If anyone does happy hour just right, Fogón Cocina takes the cake. Dine on complimentary tostadas with your meal, alongside mint mango and hibiscus margs at this family-owned nook nestled on Capitol Hill.

OK, yes it's a food truck. But that doesn't matter. The portions are generous, the meat is tender and the tacos are exquisite. We recommend the spicy pork tacos.

Alongside upscale Mexican fare, Poquitos serves up a lengthy margarita menu. To celebrate the holiday, sip on tamarindo slushies or jalapeno and pineapple-infused margaritas.

Or turn up the heat factor with their spicy La Fiona cocktail, which contains habanero-infused tequila, passionfruit puree and agave nectar, haloed with a chipotle sugar rim.

Nothing pairs better with a frozen margarita slushy than tacos with handmade tortillas, and this taco bar with a generous happy hour is a perfect spot for relaxing, especially on their Margarita Mondays and Taco Tuesdays.

With ten different styles of margaritas and over 30 tequila varieties to choose from, be sure to pace yourself on these dangerous sippers.

This homey cantina near Green Lake has a whole host of specials that mix and match tacos, enchiladas and tostadas, but its their rich mole sauce that combines warming spices and with a hint of sweetness that steals the show. 

This Mexican restaurant brags about the size of its "burritos grande" ($8.30), so enormous that customers have compared them with newborn babies. (And posted photos on the wall). The restaurant acknowledges the hugeness of it all, but says leftovers are key — and we couldn't agree more.

Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and this no-frills taco truck certainly proves that. Although they have limited offerings, their juicy taco plates are worth the stop if you are in the neighborhood.

If you've passed this spot on busy 15th Ave. W before hitting the Ballard Bridge more times than you can count, its time to pull in and give it a try. Family owned since 1976, the cozy atmosphere welcomes guests while their extensive menu caters to any taste.

This new spot on top of Queen Anne just opened in 2020 with a fresh take on Baja California Mexican food. Their sunny patio overlooking Queen Anne Avenue North is perfect for sipping on a Modelo while enjoying a crispy burrito. The restaurant also has a location in Ballard, as well as a food truck.

If you're in the mood for the fruit of the sea (aka shrimp), this neighborhood eatery serves up some juicy camarones tostadas topped with salsa as well as a traditional campechana with prawns and octopus. In addtion, they also sell paletas (Mexican ice pops) in a variety of flavors for a frozen treat after your meal.

El Camion boasts beloved Seattle margaritas alongside house-made Mexican cuisine fused with Northwest ingredients. You can also find newly reopened stationary food trucks in Sand Point, West Seattle and North Seattle.

Located in the neighborhood now known as Uptown, Garibaldi is a favorite for happy hour drinks and bites. To try the best of the best at this family owned restaurant while still staying cost efficient, order one of their massive sampler platters. For those who want to try something different, their enchiladas filled with tender crab meat and topped with tomatillo sauce are a game changer.

This beloved family-owned joint specializes in one thing and one thing only: delicious homemade tamales. If you come at the right time, you can even see the laborious, behind-the-scenes operation of hand wrapping each tamales in a corn husk before steaming. With a variety of fillings from salsa verde chicken to pork in red Chile California sauce, you won't find tamales made with such care anywhere else in the city. 

For Cinco De Mayo festivities, the restaurant is offering a special of 12 mini tamales, six fried tacos and orders of Spanish rice and beans.

Callie is a web producer for the SeattlePI focusing on local politics, transportation, real estate and restaurants. She previously worked at a craft beer e-commerce company and loves exploring Seattle's breweries. Her writing has been featured in Seattle magazine and the Seattle University Spectator, where she served as a student journalist.

Christina is an editorial assistant focusing on food, travel and lifestyle writing for the SeattlePI. She's originally from the bluegrass of Louisville, Kentucky, and earned degrees in journalism and psychology from the University of Alabama, alongside a full-stack web development certification from the University of Washington. By her previous experience writing for food and travel publications in London, England, Christina is extremely passionate about food, culture, and travel. If she's not on the phone with a local chef, she's likely learning how to fly airplanes, training for a marathon, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail or singing along at a nearby concert.

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