History of Cinco de Mayo

A common belief is that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day. This is certainly not the case, as September 16th was the day in 1810 when Mexico gained its independence from Spain.

To begin speaking about Cinco de Mayo, one must be familiar with the name Benito Juarez. It didn’t mean much to me other than the name of the Boulevard my grandmother lives near in Mexico, but a little bit of research uncovered an interesting story. Benito Juarez was born in a small rural village in 1806. He was a native- full Zapotec descent, didn’t even speak Spanish until his adolescence. Unfortunately he was orphaned quite early in his life, and grew up in extreme poverty and was uneducated. Juarez spent his days tending to sheep until they were stolen one night, and fearing the wrath of his uncle, he fled to Oaxaca to live with his sister. Running away was probably the best thing that he could’ve done- Juarez worked as a servant for a while but then started a religious private education where he studied Law and Spanish. Long story short, he became a lawyer, then a judge, then the governor of Oaxaca, a revolutionary for a liberal government, and finally, president of Mexico from 1861-1872. (5 consecutive terms! Though he passed away before completing his last term.) 1

When Juarez officially became president after triumphing over a long war against the conservatives, he decided that the now bankrupt country would have to suspend all foreign debt payments. This obviously angered the three nations Mexico was indebted to most- Britain, Spain, and France. The three nations decided to invade and claim their money. The first two retreated after some convincing by Juarez that another war would only leave Mexico in a worse condition to make payments, but France did not back down as easily. At the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, the well-equipped French army of 6,000 confronted the 4,500 poor indigenous Mexicans. The battle lasted only a day and astoundingly- the Mexicans triumphed. 2

Painting by Mike Manning


Commercialization of Cinco de Mayo

The popular rumor is that Cinco de Mayo became popular as a result of Corona’s advertising in the 80’s.  At this time, it was becoming a popular thing to drink foreign beer and Corona wanted their part in this. As the story goes, Heineken worried that cheap Mexican beer would hurt the market, and started a rumor that the FDA found traces of urine in Corona. These rumors obviously turned out to be false, and were traced back to the Heineken distributers who were sued and lost the lawsuit. Still, this rumor badly tainted their image and Corona has spent an approximate half million dollars trying to dispel it.

Then, a stroke of brilliance came with an idea of how to make up for their market loss. A holiday in which people would ONLY want to drink Mexican beer. Mexican Independence Day seems like the logical choice, but apparently “Diesiseis de septiembre: September 16th” seems too ethnic, and they thought people wouldn’t understand traditions such as el Grito de Dolores. Then came Cinco de Mayo: short, fun, easy to pronounce. Perhaps Corona even foresaw the nickname it would acquire over the years: Cinco de Drinko.  After heavy marketing, Cinco de Mayo has grown into what it is today in the US as a whole and in New York City: a day of Mexican food, Mexican beer, and Mexican fun! A similar phenomenon of commercialization has occurred in other holidays that such as Easter, Mother’s Day, and Christmas/Hanukkah3

I think that through Americanization, this holiday has turned into more of a day of celebration for Latino pride than just one for Poblanos (Mexicans from the state of Puebla) or even just for Mexicans. Read the next page about the celebrations in NYC and find out why!


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  1. Minster, Christopher. “About.com.” Latin American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/19thcenturylatinamerica/p/benitojuarez.htm>
  2. Minster, Christopher. “About.com.” Latin American History: Cinco de Mayo. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/thehistoryofmexico/a/cincodemayo.htm>.
  3. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://www.pirate4x4.com/forum/showthread.php?p=12858102>.

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