Cinco de Mayo, which means May 5 in Spanish, is widely celebrated across the United States as a holiday that over time has begun to represent Mexican culture and an opportunity for the American alcohol- manufacturing industry to market and produce mass quantities of alcohol.
Originally, Cinco de Mayo was meant to commemorate the Battle of Puebla. In the middle of the 19th century, leading up to the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was in a series of wars fighting both foreign and domestic opponents which almost drained the entire Mexican treasury.
Because of the wars, Mexico needed to suspend any debt repayment that accumulated towards the colonial empires of the time. While Spain and Britain subsided, France decided it was a good time to engage in the military conquest of Mexico.
On May 5, 1861, an 8,000 strong, well-equipped French army traveled across Mexico towards the capital but met unexpected resistance near Puebla where 4,500 underfunded Mexicans fought against the odds and won.
At the start of the Civil War, the Confederate army was gaining strength and declaring its goal of extending its policy of slavery from coast to coast. When news about Puebla reached San Francisco from Mexico City in 1862, Mexicans in California were motivated by Mexico’s fight for independence and spontaneously celebrated the occasion.
Even though Mexico lost the war with France three short years later, their resistance caused heavy losses to the French army and budget. As one of the main suppliers to the American South, France
was not able to support the Confederates for a full year after the battle of Puebla, which could have been a major turning point of the Civil War.
Although originating before the 20th century, the holiday gained popularity around the 1960s because of America’s Good Neighbor Policy dedicated to the reciprocal exchanges between Latin American countries and non-intervention in domestic affairs.
The holiday is commonly mistaken as the Mexican Independence Day, but because of its festive nature and backing by the American government, the alcohol industry used the opportunity to market its product to the American youth. Currently, at least 60milliongallonsofbeer is consumed during the holiday, surpassing St. Patrick’s Day in alcohol consumption.Somehow,the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to clarify that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day and proclaiming that the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture and the hardships that the citizens of Puebla endured for their freedom.
While the message still lives on in Puebla, I feel like Cinco de Mayo has lost much of its meaning to American society today. Rather than a potential turning point of the Civil War, the clever marketing departments for alcohol companies seem to have diluted the meaning of the holiday to just a drinking celebration and not much else. Young college students tend to blissfully ignore congressional records and no mention of America’s history with Cinco de Mayo is offered. Even in the 21st century, with technology at our fingertips, social media is littered with the economic significance of the holiday and just advertising more alcohol.