Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. (Mexico’s Independence Day, which is called “El Grito”, is actually celebrated on September 16.) To share the history of Cinco de Mayo, on the 5th of May, nearly 160 years ago in the unlikely city of Puebla, the small Mexican army successfully fended off the most powerful forces of the French led by Napoleon III. The event is celebrated every year on “Cinco de Mayo”, although it is celebrated differently in my native Mexico than in the United States.
In the U.S., people have parties, eat Mexican food such as tacos and guacamole, and scream “Happy Cinco de Mayo!” It has become a holiday like St. Patrick´s Day.
In contrast, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a very patriotic event. It is a symbol of empowerment that the people of Mexico are proud to show and is celebrated more like Memorial Day here in the United States. The 5th of May is a day of remembrance and respect to those who have done great and significant deeds in Mexican history. In Mexico, it is unlikely that someone wishes you a “Happy Cinco de Mayo”, although there is much celebration involved. The holiday is most profoundly celebrated in Puebla, the city where the battle took place, where there are parades on the streets and food being sold. It is a great spirit-lifting and symbolic day for the people of Mexico.
Although the rest of Mexico is well aware of the event, it does not celebrate it as intensely as the people in Puebla and surrounding states like Veracruz. Since there is no school, we take the opportunity to get together with family and friends and prepare typical “Mexican food” (which for us is just “food”). Normally, the Cinco de Mayo parade, as well as other Cinco de Mayo programs or special events, are playing in the background on TV during the gathering. Other than that, it is truly a quiet and typical day in most parts of the country.