Cinco de Mayo, which literally means May 5th in Spanish, is a day that is celebrated in primarily the United States and some parts of Mexico. This day, which is often erroneously confused with Mexican Independence, commemorates the victory of the Mexican army against French forces during the Battle of Puebla on this day in 1862. Today, it is not only seen as a source of pride for both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans but also as an excuse to indulge in the food, drink, and music of Mexico.
Before you can understand the holiday, first you have to understand the significance of the defeat of French forces at Puebla. This victory on the fifth of May, 1862 gave Mexican forces a significant morale boost since the French army was much bigger and better equipped then they were. However, it was only a temporary boost and the French army eventually prevailed in later battles. Even so, it did mark the end of European aggression in the Americas by military force.
Mexico’s victory at Puebla slowed but did not stop France’s assault. In the wake of the battle, an infuriated Emperor Napoleon III ordered that almost 30,000 more troops be sent to Mexico. This time around, under a new commander, they were able to overrun Puebla and easily conquer Mexico City. Juárez and his supporters then fled to the mountains to conduct guerilla operations while Napoleon III installed Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg, second in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne, as Mexico’s ruler.
This battle on Cinco de Mayo is one of the main reason our country is one instead of two or three. It kept Maximilian and Napoleon's French military out of the United States Civil War. Maximilian and Napoleon wanted to help the Confederacy win the Civil War. The first half of the Civil War did not work well for the Union. If the French came into the war, surely the Union would have lost. Instead, the Mexicans beat the odds against them and delayed the french. In fact, after the Union won the Civil War, they sent supplies and funds to help kick the French out of Mexico. Under-Secretary of State Seward had invoked the Monroe Doctrine and later stated in 1868, "The Monroe Doctrine, which eight years ago was merely a theory, is now an irreversible fact."
An interesting thing to note is that while the holiday is generally popular in Mexico, it is even more popular in the United States and has been celebrated nonstop since before the Civil War. It originally started in California when Mexican miners in the State threw spontaneous celebrations when the heard of the Battle Of Puebla. During the 1940s it would spread throughout the rest of the country during the Mexican Civil Rights Movement and the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. On June 7th, 2005, an official resolution of Congress was passed to call on the President to issue a decree to the American people to celebrate the holiday. As of today, there are over 21 U.S. States with official Cinco de Mayo celebrations.