Clicking on the Web: History of Cinco de Mayo Day

What is Cinco de Mayo?

It is a Mexican holiday celebrated on May 5 each year and commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862.

Howard Lestrud
Howard Lestrud

Cinco de Mayo is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla and throughout the state of Puebla, with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico, and especially in U.S. cities with a significant Mexican population.

It is not, as many people think, Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually Sept. 16.

Checking on the U.S. Census Bureau website (, we find that persons of Hispanic or Latino origin account for 4.7 percent of Minnesota’s population and 16.3 percent of the United States population.

Doing some quick calculating, we find the Hispanic/Latino population in Minnesota in 2010 at 251,208.

For the U.S., the Hispanic population is estimated at 5.1 million people.

As I have indicated many times before in this column, one of my favorite websites is

Go there to find out more historical information on Cinco de Mayo:

Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. Cinco de Mayo traditions include parades, mariachi music performances and street festivals in cities and towns across Mexico and the United States.

At, we read about the history of Cinco de Mayo:

History of Cinco de Mayo: Battle of Puebla

In 1861 the liberal Mexican Benito Juárez (1806-1872) became president of a country in financial ruin, and he was forced to default on his debts to European governments.

In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement.

Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, ruled by Napoleon III (1808-1873), decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory.

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.

Certain that success would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez (1814-1892) set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico.

From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a rag-tag force of 2,000 loyal men — many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry — and sent them to Puebla.

Led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza (1829-1862), the vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault.

On May 5, 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and led an assault from the north.

The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers.

Fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed in the clash.

Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success at Puebla represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.

Six years later — thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally in a position to aid its besieged neighbor after the end of the Civil War — France withdrew.

The same year, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been installed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon in 1864, was captured and executed by Juárez’s forces.

Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed for General Zaragoza, who died of typhoid fever months after his historic triumph there.

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely triumph occurred, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration.

Traditions include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events.

For many Mexicans, however, May 5 is a day like any other: It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks and stores remain open.

Cinco de Mayo in the United States

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations.

Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla.

Today, revelers mark the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano.

Some of the largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

Let’s check out some local Cinco De Mayo festivities planned for May 5:

• Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, 176 Cesar Chavez St., St Paul, MN 55107 651-222-8398,

• Chevy’s Bloomington,  2251 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425  952-814-9555

• Barrio Tequila Bar, 925 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403 612-333-9953

• La Cucaracha Mexican Restaurant, 36 Dale St. S., Saint Paul, MN 55102 651- 221-9682

• MASA, 1070 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403  612-338-6272

To find some outstanding Cinco de Mayo recipes, go to the Campbell’s Kitchens at

Find Betty Crocker recipes for Cinco de Mayo at

Go to and find Max your Mex on Cinco de Mayo:

Search for more recipes by going to

Happy Cinco de Mayo Day!

Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM online managing editor.