Cinco de Mayo has become a pretty major celebration in the United States. Many of us look forward to the day as another reason to enjoy some Mexican food and drinks, but don't actually know the reason behind celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Historically, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, which was significant for both Mexico and America. If you're curious, this is how Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated in Mexico.
According to Farhat Khan, Director of the Multicultural Resource Center for Chicago Public Schools, Cinco de Mayo celebrations are more prominent in Puebla, Mexico compared to the rest of the country. "Mexican-Americans and others celebrate by centering the day around food and drink," she tells Romper, "similar to how the the Irish holiday of St. Patrick's Day is celebrated here in the U.S." In fact, many recent Mexican immigrants are often surprised at the scale of Cinco de Mayo celebrations here in the U.S. as compared to Mexico.
The Battle of Puebla was a major show of strength for the much smaller and weaker Mexican army, and the victory was inspiring to those in Mexico, as well as Mexican immigrants here in the U.S., according to NBC News. The victory inspired many Mexicans in the fight against imperialistic France, and it also proved to be a major turning point in the American Civil War as well. With the French defeat in Puebla, the Confederate troops missed out on needed French support, which gave the Union army time to strengthen and gain momentum. This battle turned out to be a major significance in the outcome of the American Civil War.
According to Business Insider, instead of being celebrated across Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is typically only celebrated in the Puebla region of Mexico, and more specifically, largely only in the town of Puebla. In Puebla, there's a huge parade where participants dress as soldiers from the Mexican and French armies to reenact the war. After the enacted Mexican victory, the whole town breaks out in celebrations with music, dancing, and lots of delicious food.
Puebla is known as the gastronomic capital of Mexico, as Smithsonian magazine noted, and so the food used for celebration is traditional to the region and incredibly delicious. Instead of tacos and margaritas, like we stereotypically use to celebrate here in the U.S., Puebla's celebratory fare is exceptional. The most consumed dishes on Cinco de Mayo in Puebla are mole poblano (a thick, dark sauce made from ground peppers and spices), chalupas (fresh, thick tortillas topped with salsa, shredded meat, chopped onions, and queso fresco), and chiles en nogada (stuffed and fried poblano pepper topped with a rich walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley). If that doesn't make your mouth water, I'm not sure what will.
If you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a big, authentic way but are far from Mexico, don't fret. Many of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations are actually here in the U.S. According to CNN, celebrations in Chicago, Denver, and Portland attract anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 celebrators each year. And, as NBC News noted, Los Angeles is home to what's described as the largest Cinco De Mayo celebration in the world, trumping even Puebla's celebratory events.
If you're out to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this weekend, take a minute to think about the significance of the Battle of Puebla and the resulting effects it has had on our country and its people. It's a truly remarkable testament to our friends south of the border and the many amazing Mexican immigrants who are our fellow citizens. Avoid any cultural appropriation or stereotypes like wearing sombreros or drinking margaritas all day and pretending you know Spanish. Really focus on the history, if you want to celebrate, and support some locally owned Mexican restaurants for a real authentic taste. (That means no Taco Bell, you guys.)
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.