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.
Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Francisco Macías. The author information has been updated to reflect that Francisco is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.