{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/law.php' }

Cinco de Mayo is Not Mexican Independence Day?

The following is a guest post by Francisco Macías, Senior Legal Information Analyst.  Francisco has previously written about the fascinating history of the Mexican Constitution for In Custodia Legis.

No, May 5th is not Mexican Independence Day.  Mexico’s independence is celebrated on September 16th and shouldn’t be confused with the holiday of May 5th.   The celebration of “Cinco de Mayo” commemorates the “Battle of Puebla” (May 5, 1862).  In this battle, Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín (from what is now the city of Goliad, Texas, which was then once the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas), against all odds, defeated the French intervention forces of Napoleon III (led by Charles Lorencez) and forced them to retreat.  This was not the end of the French intervention in Mexico.  In fact, after this battle, additional French forces were sent to Mexico; and Mexico City and the state of Puebla were captured by the French.  Maximilian of Habsburg then became Emperor of Mexico during the Mexico’s Second Imperial period.

Many Americans — particularly college students around say age 21 — tend to celebrate this Mexican holiday by imbibing Mexican beer and tequila, the Mexican spirit, and even donning sombreros, without really considering what the holiday represents.

The reality is that the Cinco de Mayo holiday is probably more celebrated in the U.S. than in Mexico.  In fact, on more than one occasion, I was in my birth town in the state of Tamaulipas on May 5th and there wasn’t even so much as a mention of the holiday.  Furthermore, Article 74 of the Mexican Labor Law indicates which days are to be non-working days, and May 5th is not one of them.  (Although, government employees of Mexico are off on that day, but that is due to other provisions, and even in these cases the Battle of Puebla appears merely as a footnote.)

For those of you who are curious as to how the holiday became such a significant part of American celebrations, in 2007 an interesting treatise was written that traces some of the history of the holiday’s celebration in the U.S. and some of the implications of this.

The holiday has been marked numerous times by the U.S. Congress.  In the 110th and 111th Congresses, the House of Representatives passed resolutions that were introduced under the title “Recognizing the historical significance of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo.”  The Senate also passed a resolution in the 111th Congress with the same title.

As an aside, because tequila is central to any Mexican celebration, I thought I’d share some information about it.  Tequila happens to have a protected geographic designation of origin, which means that only alcoholic beverages produced in designated places throughout Mexico may bear this name (similar to champagne from that region in France).  In the Mexican state of Jalisco — the state of all that is quintessentially Mexican (think Mariachi, Mexican folkloric ballet, charreadas, a Mexican rodeo of sorts, etc) — there is a municipality and a township that bears the name Tequila.  The major industry of this town is the tequila industry because of the countless magueyales (fields of magueyes or agave, which is the plant used to make tequila).

Contrary to popular belief, however, tequila is produced in states other than Jalisco and in localities other than Tequila, Jalisco.  According to the earliest laws, the “Denomination of Origin” to legally make use of the name tequila was extended to several municipalities in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, where the agave plant grows naturally and is cultivated to make this alcoholic beverage.

5 Comments

  1. Brian
    May 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Much more interesting than mindlessly drinking tequila. :)

  2. Michael Alexander
    June 9, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Fascinating information. I savor reading the history and little known facts about different subjects. Would Francisco know the origin of the practice of inserting a slice of lime into a bottle of Corona beer?

  3. Jo (soon to be Fina) Parsons
    September 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I’m moving to Uruapan at the end of October and am interested in all things historical. I’m really grateful for the information you supplied.

  4. Paty
    September 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for the true meaning and clarification of these two days. Having lived in Mexico for several years and now being a Spanish teacher, I am astounded at the Americans who do not know the difference. Thank you for a great article.

  5. Christine McIntosh
    April 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    I love learning about Mexican History..

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.