Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.: Turning Heritage Into Consumerism

Painting of the historic Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, depicting the bravery of the Mexican forces against French troops

Contrary to what many Americans believe, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day. May 5 is a date that commemorates the military victory of the Battle of Puebla, where Mexican troops held off invading French forces in 1862. It was a surprising victory because the French were one of the most powerful armies in the world, so their forces were much more formidable. That’s why the Battle of Puebla has become a powerful underdog story of triumph over adversity and it made a big difference, especially for Mexicans living in California.



@eres.una.maravilla

It’s Cinco de Mayo which means it’s that time of year to remind everyone that it’s NOT Mexican Independence Day. 🙃 Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla which happened on May 5, 1862. 6,000 French soldiers attacked Puebla and General Ignacio Zaragoza fought against them with 2,000 Mexican soldiers and Mexico won! Did you know that most of Mexico doesn’t celebrate this holiday? So if you’re going out today make sure to support Mexican owned businesses and please don’t wear ridiculous costumes. Gracias! 🇲🇽❤️ #cincodemayo please stop saying #cincodedrinko #5demayo #cincodemayo🇲🇽 #supportmexicanownedbusinesses #mexicanowned #mexicanownedbusiness

Outside of Puebla, Mexico doesn’t widely celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but in the U.S., things are very different. Mexicans have upheld the celebration, making it an integral part of their culture. Every year, over 500 cities in the U.S. celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and Los Angeles stands out among them because they always go all out. The day is celebrated with parades, street fairs, block parties, mariachi competitions, and more.

However, as time has gone on, Cinco de Mayo has become wildly Americanized, which in this case is a synonym for commercialized. The holiday is now less about the history behind the date and what it means for Mexicans, and more about consumerism. For most Americans, Cinco de Mayo is tacos and beer day, but they don’t even know what the holiday stands for.


@peptobizmuth

It’s awesome to celebrate it but at least know what it is! 🇲🇽 Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexican Independence Day, that was 50 years earlier and in September. Although Mexico won the Battle of Puebla against the French, the French won the Franco-Mexican war & occupied the area for the next 5 years. Cinco de Mayo isn’t a federal holiday in Mexico, so banks and most businesses are open as usual. It’s not a major holiday in Mexico and it seems like it’s a bigger deal in the States when majority of those getting wasted tonight have no idea what they’re “celebrating”. #mexico #mexico🇲🇽 #cinco #cincodemayo

With nearly endless access to information at one’s fingertips nowadays, ignorance is an excuse that no longer holds much weight. If they cared enough about the culture to educate themselves, they would. Americans’ celebration of Cinco de Mayo is not only shallow, but also hypocritical, as Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, and Latinos are generally facing an increase in hostility from some in the dominant white community, and crime rates are now reflecting an increase in hate crimes.

The aggression against Mexicans has even been exported to their own soil, with reports of U.S. tourists and migrants in Mexico and other Latin American countries attempting to diminish or fundamentally change their traditions and culture.

Cinco de Mayo: What Happened at the Battle of Puebla?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which has a significant place in Mexican history. In the early 1860s, Mexico was grappling with internal and external turmoil. President Benito Juárez, trying to steer the nation forward, declared a moratorium on foreign debt payments. This angered European countries, with Spain and England withdrawing from the moratorium. Meanwhile, France, ruled by Napoleon III, had other plans for Mexico–turning it into a French colony.

At the time, the United States was going through its Civil War, so France’s intervention in Mexico posed an issue. According to the Monroe Doctrine, a U.S. policy, European colonization or puppet monarchs were actively resisted, but the Union was focused on the ongoing war. If they did nothing and Puebla came under French rule, Napoleon could establish trade with the Confederacy. On the other hand, sending help to Mexico could help France establish an alliance with the Confederacy. This is how the Battle of Puebla became intersected with the broader American context.

Despite being outnumbered by at least 2,000 French soldiers, Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza triumphed at Puebla, intensifying their sense of patriotism. In California, Mexicans saw this victory as a symbol of a shared struggle for democracy and liberty. The defeat of the French was a big blow to the Confederacy's hopes of support from a French-controlled Mexico, which gave the Union a boost.

@btswithdillon

Cinco de mayo marks the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the second French empire at the the battle of Puebla in 1862. And no, it is not Mexico's Independence Day! 🇲🇽 #cincodemayo #5demayo #mexicantiktok #mexicanculture #mexico #historytok

The victory, however, was short-lived. The French re-grouped and, a year later, defeated 29,000 Mexicans and made their way to Mexico City, where they attempted to establish a second empire. Not to be deterred, Mexican forces continued fighting and took down an estimated 11,000 French troops with their guerrilla tactics. The French withdrew from the country in 1867 as it faced threats from Prussia in Europe and America if they didn’t withdraw.

Over time, the symbolism of the first Battle of Puebla intersected with bigger movements in the U.S., such as the fight for civil rights. This is one reason Cinco de Mayo isn’t just about Mexican pride, it’s also about the contributions Mexicans and Latinos have made to U.S. history.

Chicano activists in the 60s and 70s revitalized Cinco de Mayo as a symbol of Indigenous Mexican resistance and a call for social justice. However, in recognition of the holiday’s potential to profit from the Latino community, a demographic that has been consistently growing in the U.S., big businesses, especially beer companies, started commercializing Cinco de Mayo. The commercialization started in the 80s and, since then, it has muddled the true meaning of the holiday.

The Commodification of Latino Culture

Today, there’s no denying that Cinco de Mayo is centered around tacos, beer, and tequila. Looking at beer alone, Quartz reported that the Beer Institute declared Cinco de Mayo one of the biggest holidays for beer sales in the U.S. According to the same report, 2022 saw beer volume sales rise by 8% and commercial sales rise by 12% during the week of Cinco de Mayo compared to an average week at any other time of the year. Moreover, Cinco de Mayo has been shown to surpass the Super Bowl and St. Patrick’s Day in beer sales.

Cinco de Mayo also boosts produce sales. According to Produce Pay, this holiday is the second-highest consumption date for avocados, second only to the Super Bowl. It’s a highly profitable day for Mexican restaurants as well, whether they’re authentic or not, because they see a big increase in revenue on that day. This can be great news for Latino-owned restaurants, but it’s not uncommon for Latinos to feel torn about it.

In a society so driven by consumerism and instant gratification, the historical significance of Cinco de Mayo has been pushed to the sidelines. A date that was once a symbol of resistance is now centered around marketing and an excuse for corporations to capitalize on Latino culture while bolstering racist stereotypes in their campaigns. Profit has diluted this piece of Mexican heritage, turning it into one big party and highlighting nothing about its historical significance.

Cultural advocates highlight every year that it’s important to remember that while the holiday can certainly be enjoyed with tacos, beers, and margaritas, it’s also important not to forget the inspirational roots of resistance and overcoming against all odds.

an image of a girl in a first communion ceremony

I was inducted into the Catholic faith pretty much straight out of the womb, starting off at this Catholic primary school in Mexico when I was just six years old. I was pure Play-Doh back then, ready to be shaped and molded. There I was, learning the Holy Bible like it was basic arithmetic or the ABCs.

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