The History of Cinco De Mayo

The History of Cinco de Mayo

What Actually Happened on May 5 in Mexico?

This month, in this space, we want to take a moment and look at the history of Cinco de Mayo. The holiday will be here in a little over a month. Here at El Mariachi in Parkersburg, WV, Cinco de Mayo is one of the busiest days of our year. Many people from all across the Mid-Ohio Valley choose to celebrate with us on May 5. They live it up with our wide menu of authentic Mexican cuisine and our slate of 14 flavors of margaritas. Our Mexican restaurant always offers the most authentic Mexican atmosphere anywhere in the MOV. It’s just like a trip to Mexico without leaving West Virginia. And as we get extremely busy on Cinco de Mayo, be sure to make your reservations well in advance!

The Cinco de Mayo holiday has become a big celebration of Mexican culture and heritage (and Mexican cuisine!) in the United States. This is especially true in areas with a significant Mexican population. However, according to an article on, Cinco de Mayo is actually a relatively minor holiday in Mexico. But what exactly does the holiday commemorate and celebrate? You may think you know, but you may find yourself surprised at the real history of the May 5 festivities. So as we look ahead to Cinco de Mayo next month, let’s take a quick look back at the facts surrounding the observance.

A Short Battle for a Small City, A Big Victory for Mexico

Many people, maybe even you, think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. Actually, that is not true. Mexico’s real Independence Day is on September 16, celebrating the date in 1810 that the country declared its independence from Spain. It was on that day that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla fomented an uprising that sparked into the Mexican War of Independence.

What does Cinco de Mayo Celebrate?

So what does Cinco de Mayo celebrate? This holiday memorializes the Mexican Army’s victory against France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, during the Franco-Mexican War. Mexicans also call it the Battle of Puebla Day. The history of the holiday begins in 1861. That year, Benito Juarez was officially elected as Mexico’s new president, after holding office in the interim for three years. The country was in financial straits, and the situation forced the Juarez-led government to default on debts to Britain, Spain, and France. Ultimately, Britain and Spain negotiated deals with Juarez. However, France’s leader, Napoleon III, chose to capitalize on these circumstances to annex Mexico as a part of France’s new Second Empire. Later that year, the French fleet landed at Veracruz, Mexico, and began its march across the country.

Commanded by French general Charles Latrille de Lorencez, 6,000 French soldiers started marching for Puebla de Los Angeles, a town in east-central Mexico. Juarez, with his government, had retreated to the northern part of the country. From there, he recruited 2,000 Mexicans to get to Puebla before the French. Under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza, these men entered Puebla, gained control of the city, and waited for the French military to arrive. Lorencez and the French gathered around the city on May 5, 1862. Despite poor supplies and inferior numbers, the Mexicans fought the French into retreat, with only fewer than 100 casualties. In comparison, the French lost almost 500 soldiers. This success, while not a vitally strategic victory, became a rallying point for the Mexicans and bolstered support. The French would finally withdraw from Mexico in 1867.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

As we mentioned above, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico. While other parts of the country do observe the day, the festivities primarily take place in the state of Puebla. This is where the battle was fought. Traditions include re-enactments of the battle, military parades, and other festivities. It is not a federal holiday in Mexico, however; people still go to work, and banks and other facilities remain open. So how exactly did it become such a big celebration in the United States? Once again, we must go back to the 1860s to get a proper perspective.

France’s Second Empire, led by Napoleon III, sided with the Confederacy during America’s Civil War. He knew that if the United States government were busy fighting a war on its soil, it could not interfere with his invasion of Mexico. Union blockades also halted the export of cotton from the South, so Napoleon III planned to obtain that coveted material through a French-occupied Mexico. He was going to provide guns and support to the Confederacy in exchange for cotton. When the French suffered the defeat at the Battle of Puebla, Mexicans who had emigrated to California during the Gold Rush celebrated. They were ardent abolitionists. The immigrants knew what the victory meant for their home country, as well as the Union cause. They formed “Juntas Patrioticas,” or Patriotic Assemblies, to gather and celebrate the battle’s outcome.

Modern Day Traditions Throughout the U.S.

In the 1960s, Chicano activists raised more awareness of Cinco de Mayo. They identified themselves with the success of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders. Today, the holiday has become a celebration of Mexican culture all across the United States. Some of the largest festivities take place in Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago. People observe the day with parties, parades, mariachi music, and lots of delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine! 

El Mariachi Celebrates Cinco de Mayo in the Mid-Ohio Valley

This year, why don’t you come and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us here at El Mariachi? Our authentic Mexican restaurant brings the festivities right to Parkersburg, WV. People from all across the Mid-Ohio Valley join us for Cinco de Mayo. Make your reservations today!

But we don’t only celebrate Mexican culture and heritage on May 5. Our Mexican restaurant offers the best authentic Mexican cuisine anywhere in the MOV. We also provide an amazing atmosphere in which to enjoy your meal. It really is like a trip to Mexico without ever leaving West Virginia. You don’t have to wait until Cinco de Mayo; join us tonight for dine-in or takeout deliciousness. We have something for every member of your family or group of friends. You can even order online. Don’t forget to ask us about our fundraising opportunities and catering service. When you want authentic Mexican cuisine from an authentic Mexican restaurant in the Mid-Ohio Valley, there is only one choice: El Mariachi.

Want more information on our planned festivities for Cinco de Mayo? Call us today at (304) 420-9005 to place your reservation. Like El Mariachi on Facebook for updates and specials! El Mariachi in Parkersburg, WV, is the Mid-Ohio Valley’s authentic Mexican restaurant. We love to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage, including the history of Cinco de Mayo.