Cinco de Mayo Day is observed on the 5th of May as a national holiday in Mexico. This day marks the victory of the Mexican forces over the French army in the battle of Puebla de Los Angeles in 1862. The battle of Puebla is said to represent the unity and patriotism of the Mexicans.
Cinco de Mayo Day is a significant date in history. That's because on this day, Mexico and Latin America showed to the entire world that they were ready to defend themselves against foreign aggression. However, Cinco de Mayo Day is not observed as a federal holiday in the United States.
The history of Cinco de Mayo Day is associated with the French occupation of Mexico. The French tried to occupy Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. This war left the Mexicans totally devastated and they went through a severe national crisis during the 1850's.
On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez decided to suspend foreign debt payments for a period of 2 years. However, he did promise that he would resume the payments once the period of crisis was over. But the English, French and Spanish didn't want the President to take this step. So, they resolved to invade Mexico and get the payments by all means.
As time passed on, the English and the Spanish withdrew but the French refused to do so without putting up a fight. That's because the French wanted to build an empire in Mexico under the leadership of Napoleon III. The French leader, Napoleon III believed that United States could become a power if it was allowed to reign on its own. So, under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez, the French army advanced toward the battleground in 1862. The French were certain that they would win the battle of Puebla de Los Angeles easily. Accordingly, around 6,000 French troops attacked Puebla de Los Angeles. However, a troop of 2000 Mexicans fortified the town and prepared their defense.
Under the Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexican army including 5000 Mestizo and Zapotec Indians fought the French army on May 5 and defeated them. The battle lasted till early evening with the French losing around 500 soldiers compared to very few Mexicans being killed.
Since then the "Batalla de Puebla" has been considered as "5 de Mayo". Puebla de Los Angeles, the site for the battle was renamed as Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of General Ignacio Zaragoza.
Some people wrongly associate the Cinco de Mayo history with the Mexican Independence which is usually observed on September 16. However, the observance of this day has become quite commercialized as people often spend this day having fun without celebrating the actual spirit of this occasion.
The Cinco de Mayo Day is celebrated more as a Chicano (U.S. citizen of Mexican descent) holiday than a holiday in Mexico. The celebrations are large-scaled in the United States, especially among the Chicanos, as compared to Mexico. Usually, the Chicanos celebrate the Cinco de Mayo Day with music, folk dance and parades.