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Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is actually a Mexican holiday. Many Americans erroneously believe the holiday, the Fifth of May in English, celebrates Mexican independence, but the real Mexican National Independence Day is September 16, commemorating the country’s break with Spain in 1821. The celebration, a rather minor one in Mexico, actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla where on the Fifth of May, 1862, Mexican forces under General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin defeated a larger French force.

About the time of the American Civil War, Mexico was forced to default on huge debts it owed to France. Using the default and the American war as an excuse to build an empire, French Emperor Louis Napoleon sent troops to Mexico. After the setback at Puebla in 1862, Louis Napoleon sent more troops, defeated the Mexicans, and set up his cousin Archduke Maximilian of Austria as ruler of the country. Several years later Maximilian was defeated, and executed, by forces under Mexican national hero Benito Juarez.

Despite the fact that Cinco de Mayo is of little importance in Mexico, it is widely celebrated by Americans all over the country who have no real connection to Mexico’s heritage. Many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans object to the fuss, which usually entails celebrations in bars and restaurants with a lot of drinking of popular Mexican brands of beer and tequila (usually in the form of the margarita cocktail), entertainment by Mexican mariachi bands, and consumption of Mexican or Mexican-type food. American beer distributors and restaurants advertise and promote the celebrations quite heavily.

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