Why Do Americans Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican Holiday?

Filed in American Culture by on May 3, 2019 0 Comments


If you’re just arriving to the United States for your exchange program, you may be wondering: why do Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday?

In the United States, the May 5 holiday is celebrated with tacos, margaritas, and music at bars, restaurants, and parties around the country.

But if you cross the border into Mexico, you’ll find low-key celebrations that primarily focus on honoring the military. Typically, only one out of Mexico’s 31 states celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

How do you explain the stark difference between the two countries’ celebration of the same holiday?

The Meaning of Cinco de Mayo

Many Americans mistake the meaning of Cinco de Mayo, thinking that it’s a celebration of Mexico’s independence. That’s actually on September 16.

The holiday commemorates Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla during the French Intervention of Mexico in 1862.

Defeating Napoleon III and his outsized French forces was a surprising win for the Mexican army. Though the celebration didn’t last long—France ultimately occupied Mexico for several years afterward—the May 5 battle provided a big morale boost to the underequipped Mexican troops.

This is why Mexico—in contrast to the United States’ rambunctious parties—marks Cinco de Mayo with a military parade and staged mock battles.

Mexican Integration into U.S. Culture

Another reason for the differences is how Mexican-Americans choose to celebrate the holiday.

The first Cinco de Mayo celebration in the United States took place in 1863. Americans living in Southern California wanted to show solidarity with Mexicans against French rule.

Celebrations have continued annually since then. Through the decades, the holiday has evolved as a way for Mexican-Americans to celebrate pride in their heritage and promote community.

In the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo was widely commercialized and took on its current flavors—tequila, loud music, and partying.

While Cinco de Mayo has evolved through the years, it’s still a great way for Americans—those with and without Mexican heritage—to celebrate our Southern neighbor.