Cinco de Mayo Is Not Mexico’s Independence Day

WORLD HISTORY | April 6, 2019

Cinco de Mayo dancers. Source: (wikipedia.org)

Despite popular belief, May 5 is not Mexico’s Independence Day. That honor falls to September 16. While still an important date in Mexico’s history, May 5 is not considered a federal holiday, though it is still celebrated with festivals and parades. Ironically, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the United States, where it has become the epitome of Mexican culture and where it is often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day.

The original Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 1862, was the day that the Mexican army defeated the French forces during the Battle of Puebla, despite being outmatched. This wasn’t the final battle that won the war. In fact, France would capture Puebla the following year and continue to control Mexico until 1867. However, the seemingly impossible victory was the confidence boost the country need to resist foreign domination.

Municipal president giving the "grito" of "¡Viva México!" at the commencement of Independence Day festivities at 11 pm 16 September 2008 in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo. Source: (widkipedia.org)

Mexico’s actual Independence Day occurred shortly after Napoleon invaded Spain. Colonists took advantage of this opportunity to revolt. On September 16, 1810, political leader Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla delivered a call to arms, entitled the “Cry of Dolores,” which began the Mexican War of Independence. Mexico won the war in 1821; however, independence was not accompanied by peace. The colonists were from varying backgrounds and had varying ideas regarding the future of the new country.

Conservative (blue) V Liberals (red) during the Reform War. Source: (wikipedia.org)

The internal conflicts left the country vulnerable and conflict with the United States in the 1940s resulted in a loss of Mexico’s claims to Texas, Utah, Nevada, and California. This only worsened the already strained political climate. The liberals and the conservatives were fighting over the relationship between the government and religion. After the Reform War ended in 1860, the liberals took charge and Benito Juarez was elected president of Mexico. Conservatives were not happy and they reached out to Napoleon III of France.

Entry of the French division in the Bay of Acapulco, 10 January 1863. Source: (wikiwand.com)

Mexico’s economy had been hit hard by the Mexican-American War and the Reform War. As a result, the country owed debts to several European countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. When Mexico defaulted on the loans, all three countries sent forces. The United Kingdom and Spain withdrew their forces after agreeing to let Mexico defer payments. However, France had other plans, using the unpaid debt as an excuse to invade Mexico for its resources and its proximity to the United States, which was involved in the American Civil War and therefore vulnerable to attack.

Battle of Puebla. Source: (wikipedia.org)

On May 5, 1862, French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez led 6,000 heavily armed troops into the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles, which was defended by 2,000 poorly supplied Mexican troops under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza. Despite being outnumbered, Zaragoza’s army was able to turn away French forces through strategic maneuvering. Lorencez blamed his leadership skills for the defeat and, evidently, Napoleon III agreed as he relieved Lorencez of his position.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla through events such as battle reenactments and parades. However, in the United States, the holiday has gone beyond the celebration of a battle victory and has instead become a celebration of Mexican culture with parades, parties, mariachi music, folk dancing, and more.

Tags: cinco de mayo | mexico independence day | world history

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Penny Chavers


Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.