Cinco de Mayo is a unique holiday. It commemorates a Mexican battle, yet it’s barely celebrated in Mexico. Further confusion comes from the fact that many outside of Mexico incorrectly assume that the day is a celebration of Mexican independence.
Despite the confusion, Cinco de Mayo has become a widely celebrated day in America. It has been marketed as a celebration of Mexican heritage and the Latino identity, and has started to gain global popularity as well. How did all of this happen?
Mexico and Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo memorializes the triumph of heavily outnumbered Mexican forces against a French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. The battle served to bolster Mexican forces, although the victory was short-lived, as French forces eventually defeated the Mexican army a year later. Still, the battle held significance as a symbol of Mexico’s unity and patriotism.
Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla also had far-reaching implications for the United States in 1862, as it delayed French occupation. Ultimately, it prevented Napoleon’s plans to support and aid the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
Today, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a national holiday in Mexico, and although public schools are closed for the day, the only real celebration take place in Puebla, the site of the battle. Every year, the city celebrates the battle with reenactments, parades, and partying.
Throughout the rest of Mexico, however, there aren’t many celebrations at all. Instead, the holiday has migrated North, becoming much more popular in the United States.
Celebration and Commercialization in the United States
In the late 1800s, Cinco de Mayo was brought over to the United States by Mexican immigrants, and quickly became a popular holiday primarily in California. During the 1950s and 1960s, this celebration acted as a bridge between the divide in Mexican and American cultures. The symbolism of unity and patriotism from the battle was easily translated into U.S. values.
Over time, it became a way to promote the Latino identity, and the focus of the holiday shifted towards celebrating Mexican-American heritage.
The United States embraced the culture of Cinco de Mayo. To most, the holiday ceased to be about the Battle of Puebla, removing the national pride associated with the event.
Of course, as Cinco de Mayo has become more popular, it’s also become increasingly commercialized. Since the 1980s, companies began to more heavily market the holiday, advertising anything and everything associated with Mexican culture. This brought Cinco de Mayo to a new level of cultural visibility.
This commercialization continues to be profitable, and Cinco de Mayo has become an immensely popular holiday in the United States. Today, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Latino culture, and many participate in parades, music, and dances. Another huge part of Cinco de Mayo is Mexican cuisine, although traditional Cinco de Mayo food in Puebla is vastly different from the Mexican food typically eaten in America for the holiday.
Unfortunately, while there have been many positives from the increased commercialization of Cinco de Mayo, negative aspects have cropped up as well. Liquor companies have heavily marketed Cinco de Mayo as a day to drink tequila, rum, and Mexican beer.
As a result, some celebrate Cinco de Mayo strictly as a holiday to drink, rebranding the day as “Drinko de Mayo” or “Cinco de Drinko,” which has been met with criticisms.
Some have noted that the commercialization by liquor companies has happened to other cultural holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest.
Some critics say that the commercialization of Cinco De Mayo has led to the holiday being totally removed from its historical and cultural roots for the gain of American companies. However, Cinco De Mayo is still considered an important Latino cultural touchstone in the U.S., and researchers say that the observance of Cinco de Mayo provides a collective identity for those of Mexican and Latino descent living in the U.S.
Cinco de Mayo only continues to spread to other countries around the world, appearing in Australia, Canada, Japan, and more. Only time will tell what effect globalization will have on Cinco de Mayo, or what effect Cinco de Mayo will have on globalization.