Cinco de Mayo, (5th of May) is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.
This celebration is not Mexican Independence Day!
The celebration commemorates a single battle that took place after Benito Juárez was elected president of Mexico. The country was in financial ruin at the time and the new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.
France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces; but France, with Napoleon III as the leader, thought that he would make a French territory in Mexico. He sent in his well-armed French fleet to Veracruz and the troops after landing drove the new president and his government into retreat.
The certain success the French thought would come swiftly just did not happen. The new Mexican president rounded up a ragtag force – many were Indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry – and sent them to the battle grounds in Puebla. The French arrived and battle took place. This lasted from daybreak to early evening. The French finally retreated having lost nearly 500 soldiers while fewer than 100 Mexicans were killed.
This fairly minor holiday in Mexico is celebrated in the United States and elsewhere with much fanfare, it has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage.