May 1, 2012
It’s a popular misconception that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day. In actuality, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Mexico celebrates its Independence Day, freedom from Spanish rule, on September 16. Cinco de Mayo isn’t actually even a federal holiday in Mexico or widely celebrated at a national level. In Mexico, most of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations occur in the town of Puebla. They celebrate with mariachi music, piñatas, traditional Mexican food and parades in honor of the soldier’s victory in the 1862 battle.
The holiday is also widely celebrated across the United States. The timing of the victory came during the first half of the Civil War in the United States, when the war was not going well for the Union. The Confederacy was petitioning foreign countries for aid, specifically Britain and France. France invaded Mexico in an effort to gain North American territories. The news of a victory in Mexico against confederate allies was a cause for celebration for Union states, particularly Mexican-Americans who where proud of their native country’s victory over France’s much stronger, well-equipped army.
The victory had additional significance for Mexican-Americans, in reality for all Americans. A year after the first victory, Puebla still hadn’t fallen to the French, which was another cause for celebration and May 5 remained a day of celebration of victory over the French. Even though Puebla eventually fell weeks later, the first victory successfully cut off French intervention from the Civil War. From then on, the holiday spread and gained popularity (helped in no small part by commercialism seeking to use the holiday for its gain).
It is important to share the real history behind the holiday with your children so that misconceptions are not passed on to new generations. This is especially true if you have adopted a child from Mexico or of Hispanic/Latino descent so that they can share in the pride of their heritage. America may not have become what it is today without this small but significant victory in the town of Puebla and it is a cause for celebration. Encourage your child to celebrate their heritage and embrace their culture.
Regardless of race, however, it is important to teach your children acceptance and educate them about other cultures so that they will appreciate differences and to embrace all people. Celebrate other cultures by trying new foods, reading books and learning about their traditions. Whether your child is from Congo, Bulgaria, Mexico or Ukraine, it is important to create an environment of learning and discovery into other cultures, in addition to their own. MLJ is planning a service trip to Mexico, through the Fatherless Foundation, July 14-21, children are also welcome on this trip. Deadline for application and passport submission is June 1, 2012. This would be a great opportunity to serve and learn more about another culture. Check out our newsletter for more details and anyone interested can contact Lydia Tarr.
Here are some ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with your family:
- Get crafty: Make your own mariachi instruments such as guitars, maracas, and castanets out of household items. If you’re really venturesome design your own sombreros, piñatas and festive masks.
- Cook tasty food: Prepare some delicious Mexican recipes to share as a family.
- Story time: Visit your local library and explore the story through the illustration of books.
- Celebrate: Check out local festivities and join in on the fun! My favorite is watching a ballet folklorico performance, a traditional Mexican folk dance, check to see where they are performing near you. If you can’t find a local celebration have your own parade, fiesta or reenactment.
However you celebrate Cinco de Mayo, do it as a family and have fun commemorating the town of Puebla and their unlikely yet significant victory over the French on May 5, 1862.