Cinco de Mayo History & Facts For Kids
Cinco de Mayo History
Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory by the Mexican Army over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
It was a great victory because it was unexpected. France at that time was still very powerful and had many troops in Mexico. Why were French troops in Mexico? Let’s go back a few years.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1810. But the Mexican War with the United States and the Mexican Civil War almost entirely wiped out the Mexican Treasury. During these wars, Mexico had borrowed heavily from European countries, including France. In the early 1860s, Mexico stopped paying France back. France’s answer was to invade Mexico.
The French had tried to make Archduke Maximilian of Austria the ruler of Mexico. Under his command, French troops marched from the Gulf of Mexico toward Mexico City.
13 Fun Facts about Cinco de Mayo
These are just some fun facts to know to help you get better acquinted with Cinco de Mayo:
1. Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. In America, we say “The 4th of July” when talking about our Independence Day. It would seems natural, then, that “The 5th of May” would be the Mexican equivalent. Not so. Actually, Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of an 1862 battle between an under-armed, under-manned Mexican army against a well-armed French Army led by Napoleon III. Clearly, the Mexican army won, hence the celebration every 5th of May.
2. So What Is Mexico’s Independence Day? Mexico celebrates its Independence Day – the day it declared its independence from Spanish Rule – on September 16th every year. Mexico declared its independence in 1810, more than 50 years prior to the battle that we commemorate with Cinco de Mayo.
3. The Battle of Puebla was short. When we think of war in a modern sense, we think of prolonged battles that last days, or even weeks, with ground forces trudging forward. The Battle of Puebla commemorated on Cinco de Mayo, however, featured about 12,000 soldiers combined (8,000 French and 4,000 Mexican). Yet, the entire battle lasted just about two hours and changed the course of history in North America.
4. So wait, what were the French doing in Mexico in 1862? Think of them as an armed collections agency. After declaring their independence in 1810, Mexico went through decades of infighting, as well as fighting with America. this cost a lot of money. In 1861, Mexican President, Benito Juarez, declared a 2-year moratorium on loan repayments to foreign nations, including Spain, England, and France in an attempt to avoid bankrupting the country. All three nations invaded Mexico to collect on debts. While Spain and England left, France tried to stay and take over the country. Obviously, it didn’t work out for the French as we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and not Cinq mai.
5. Cinco de Mayo must be HUGE in Mexico! Not really. While the Batalla de Puebla helped to unify Mexico around one event, the major celebrations of Cinco de Mayo has largely been contained to the village of Puebla, about 100 miles east of Mexico City, where the original battle took place. In reality, Cinco de Mayo is much more popular in America, where citizens of Mexican descent (and those who just like a good margarita) hold festivals from sea to shining sea.
6.Just How Popular is Cinco de Mayo in America? In a word: VERY. Annual Cinco de Mayo festivals in Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, and St. Paul, regularly draw hundreds of thousands of people. In fact, the world’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration is the Festival de Fiesta Broadway held in Los Angeles, California. It routinely draws about 600,000 people to partake in song, spirit, and dance!
7. My grandparents say they don’t remember celebrating Cinco de Mayo when they were kids. What gives? Cinco de Mayo, as we know it today in America, didn’t begin until 1967. Some students from California State University noticed that there weren’t any Mexican holidays celebrated in America like there were for citizens of other descent, like St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest, or Chinese New Year. So they chose Cinco de Mayo as the day to celebrate and gathered Chicano students in unity and celebration. It has gotten a little bigger since then.
8. So they don’t party so much in Mexico, huh? Whoa, hardly. In fact, Cinco de Mayo is just one of more than 365 festivals that are celebrated by Mexicans and people of Mexican descent. No wonder Mexico is such a popular spring break destination!
9. Do they celebrate Cinco de Mayo anywhere besides Mexico and America? While the celebrations aren’t as large or as well-publicized in other nations, some nations mark the day in their own special way. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for example, a particular sky-diving club holds their annual Cinco de Mayo jump. Meanwhile the Mediterranean island nation of Malta simply encourages the enjoyment of Mexican beer on Cinco de Mayo.
10. Have margaritas always been the unofficial drink of Cinco de Mayo? Hardly. While Tequila holds a long and storied place in Mexican and Mexican-American celebratory traditions, the margarita didn’t even exist in 1862! While tequila, ice, lime, and sugar all existed in 1862, they weren’t brought together in the form of a margarita until about 1930. Maybe that’s another day that deserves celebration. Just sayin’.
11. Are there any traditional Cinco de Mayo songs? While there are no songs specifically for Cinco de Mayo, there are plenty of songs with Cinco de Mayo in the lyrics, including “Isis” by Bob Dylan and “Mexico” by Cake. In fact, the following bands/artists all have songs titled “Cinco de Mayo”: War, Liz Phair, Senses Fail, and Herb Alpert.
12. The banks are open in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. Because Cinco de Mayo is a national holiday, and not technically a Federal holiday, the banks stay open. It’s sort of like Arbor Day, but with more tequila.
13. Why Cinco de Mayo still matters. As any celebratory holiday, it is important to honor those moments in a nation’s history when it overcomes tremendous odds. That alone would be reason to keep remembering Cinco de Mayo. The other noteworthy element of Cinco de Mayo is that it represents the last time a foreign army waged aggression in North America… 148 years ago.