In The United States, many people think Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican independence. But Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s longshot victory against France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
In the early 1960s, Mexican-American civil rights activists celebrated the day as a source of pride. By the 1980s advertising companies co-opted the day to launch marketing campaigns for Mexican products like beer and tequila.
The National Today writes, “[a]n economically-struggling Mexico was intervened by the French for the second time, who had the hopes to gain control of the Latin American country under the rule of Napoleon III. The French General, Charles de Lorencez, directed his army towards the capital of Mexico City, with the intent to overthrow the president of Mexico, Benito Juarez.
But things didn’t go as planned, as they encountered heavy resistance, culminating at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1892. Even if their forces had half the numbers of their opponents, the Mexican Army, led by Ignacio Zaragoza, managed to successfully win over the French army at Puebla, a city just 70 miles from Mexico City. Four days later, on May 9, Juárez declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday.
While the battle in itself was not a major strategic win, and the French took control of Mexico in 1864, it served to lift the spirits of resistance forces, and helped them to gain an alliance with the Americans to successfully make Napoleon’s forces withdraw. Since it is believed the French would have likely aided the Confederacy at the Civil War, Mexico’s resistance likely changed the history of the United States.”
So Mexico’s resistance stopped the French from joining the Confederates in the U.S. Civil War.
Watch: “Puebla: The True Story of Cinco de Mayo” by Calpulli Mexican Dance Company