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  • Writer's pictureAngie Soto

Cinco de Mayo History, Food, Music, and Classroom Activities

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. At the time, Mexico was financially unstable due to a long civil war and wanted to negotiate their debts with Spain, Britain, and France. Spain and Britain negotiated, but France refused. They invaded Mexico instead. On May 5th 1862, the Battle of Puebla took place. Although the Mexican army was outnumbered, that didn't stop them from defending themselves at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The Mexican army defeated the French on the evening of that day. They won this battle, but the French didn't actually leave Mexico until about 5 years later. For this reason, Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico and it's not celebrated in most of the country.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla because of it's significance. First of all, it was shocking to everyone that the prestigious, well-equipped French army of 8,000 that had not lost a battle in over 50 years, was defeated by the 4,000 poorly equipped Mexican soliders, many of them Indigenous volunteers. Secondly, it was proof that in unity, heroic sacrifice, strength, and unwavering spirit, the Mexicans could defend their country from invading Europeans.

Cinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexico's Independence Day, which is actually September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated in Puebla, Mexico and the United States.

In Puebla, the celebrations include historical re-enactments of the Battle, parades, parties, mariachi music, folk dancing, delicious Mexican food and drinks, and finally fireworks.

In the United States, observance of Cinco de Mayo began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy" of 1933. This policy was meant to improve relations between the community and Latin American Countries, paving the way for Cinco de Mayo to become an American holiday. In 2005, the United States Congress officially declared observance of Cinco de Mayo. Since then, we have officially celebrated the holiday.

Cinco de Mayo is a more popular holiday in the United States than it is in Mexico. In the United States, we also celebrate with parades, parties, mariachi music, folk dancing, delicious Mexican food, and Mexican drinks. Everyone can celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Participating in such celebrations promotes diversity and encourages engagement between friends and colleagues.

Whether it's at work or school, Mexican food can be used in a Cinco de Mayo celebration. It can be something as simple as providing chips and salsa. Here's a link to an easy salsa recipe that you will love. You can also do a potluck and have a sign up sheet like this one.

On Cinco de Mayo, it is common to hear Mariachi music, a distinct type of traditional Mexican folk music that combines brass and string instruments. I have created a short playlist of some famous and common Mariachi music. You can find the link to the Spotify Cinco de Mayo Mariachi Music Playlist here.

If you're an elementary school teacher or Spanish teacher that wants to incorporate some Mexican culture and heritage into your lessons, you might like this Cinco de Mayo unit.

Happy Cinco de Mayo Planning,


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