Cinco de Mayo (pronounced [ˈsiŋko ðe ˈmaʝo] in Mexico, Spanish for “Fifth of May”) is a yearly celebration held on May 5, which commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the Second French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory over the French army was a morale boost for the Mexicans. Zaragoza died months after the battle from an illness, and a larger French force ultimately defeated the Mexican army at a Second Battle of Puebla and occupied Mexico City. However, following the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States began lending money and guns to Mexican liberals, pushing France and Mexican Conservatives to the edge of defeat. At the opening of the French chambers in January 1866, Napoleon III announced that he would withdraw French troops from Mexico. In reply to a French request for American neutrality, the American secretary of state William H. Seward replied that French withdrawal from Mexico should be unconditional.
More popular in the United States than Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture. Celebrations began in California, where they have been observed annually since 1863. The day gained nationwide popularity beyond those of Mexican-American heritage in the 1980s due to advertising campaigns by beer, wine, and tequila companies; today, Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl. In Mexico, the commemoration of the battle continues to be mostly ceremonial, such as through military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla marks the event with various festivals and reenactments of the battle.
Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16, commemorating the Cry of Dolores in 1810, which initiated the war of Mexican independence from Spain. Cinco de Mayo has been referenced and featured in entertainment media, and has become an increasingly global celebration of Mexican culture, cuisine, and heritage.
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