Cinco de Mayo History: An American Celebration of the Battle of Puebla

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 Mexican victory over the French.

ByABC News
May 5, 2010, 10:54 AM

— -- What is Cinco de Mayo anyway? Contrary to popular belief, it's not Mexican Independence Day, which is commemorated Sept. 16.

It actually celebrates the 1862 Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla and, according to many people, is more of a U.S. holiday than a Mexican one.

For the average Mexican, today is just another Wednesday, wrote Oscar Casares, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.

"The holiday, which has never really been much of one in Mexico, crossed over to this side of the border in the 1950s and 1960s, as civil rights activists were attempting to build harmony between the two countries and cultures," Casares wrote.

"The date gained more attention in the 1980s when marketers, particularly beer companies, saw this as a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the celebratory nature of the holiday."

Eric Lurio wrote in the Huffington Post, "It's actually a Mexican-American holiday, which was for some reason very popular in California, and over the years has become the official Mexican ethnic day, as Columbus Day is for the Italians ... In other words, it's a harmless, if totally fake holiday."

Nevertheless, Cinco de Mayo is big here and has added significance in the midst of the contentious national debate about immigration.

President Obama is holding a special event in the White House Rose Garden today and will likely have something to say about his vision for comprehensive overhaul of citizenship laws and border security, the Swamp political blog predicted.