Cinco de Mayo is a popular U.S. holiday that celebrates Mexican-American heritage and culture. It is especially popular in the southwest and any big city with a large population of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Big cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Phoenix all boast impressive Cinco de Mayo celebrations. But what is Cinco de Mayo really about?
Commonly misunderstood to be Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo actually originated when the Mexican army won an important battle against the French. In 1962, despite being gruesomely outnumbered by their enemies, the Mexican army won a decisive victory in what was called “the Battle of Puebla.”
The Mexicans were outnumbered, poorly supplied, and unprepared. But in the end, less than 100 Mexican soldiers died. The French suffered heavy casualties and had to retreat.
Therefore, Cinco de Mayo is not all that popular in Mexico. Mexican Independence Day is actually on September 16. Mexicans have plenty to celebrate in their own country, so why is Cinco de Mayo such a big deal for Americans?
The answer is: beer. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, beer companies targeted the Spanish-speaking population with ad campaigns that encouraged people to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and party. Corona encouraged people to celebrate the party by drinking Mexican beer. The ad campaign manager Don Mann explained that having people associate the holiday as a day to drink Mexican beer was a major victory for the company.
“Corona is the first thing that comes to mind when customers think Cinco de Mayo.”
It’s the perfect time for a holiday–the weather is warming up, people want to go outside and have a good time and enjoy it. Mexican food and warm weather go together. Alcohol marketers picked up on this and encouraged customers to party.
But it isn’t all marketing. The ad campaign piggy-backed off a feeling that Mexican-Americans had long expressed–that Cinco de Mayo was important to their idea of America and being part of the Union. There has long been an overlap between “Mexican” and “American” in the Southwest, and even in 1862, American-based Latinos heard of the battle and felt a sense of patriotism with their Mexican counterparts. They raised money for Mexican troops.
Chicano Studies professor Jose Alamillo said that Mexicans living in California at the time felt a sense of comradeship with Mexicans. At the same time, the U.S. was going through the Civil War between north and south, so they likened the Mexican struggle to the struggle over democracy happening in the east.
“They had to kind of make the case for fighting for freedom and democracy and they were able to link the struggle of Mexico to the struggle of the Civil War, so there were simultaneous fights for democracy.”
Cinco de Mayo was recognized by patriotic Mexican-Americans since the victory of the battle, but the holiday only rose to national prominence when beer marketers took the opportunity to give people an excuse to party. This is a real Mexican-American holiday, celebrating the heritage of Mexico for people living in the states.
And what about avocados? Well, over 80 percent of avocados come to the U.S. from Mexico. And on Cinco de Mayo, Americans eat over 80 million pounds of avocado. The association between Mexico and avocados is inextricable. Even if Mexico doesn’t recognize Cinco de Mayo too heavily, they certainly recognize the boon the American holiday has on the avocado business.
In fact, avocado prices are at an all-time high and show no signs of slowing down. Avocados have been regarded as a “super-food” and are popular for their high nutritional content and taste. Here are some great avocado recipes for cinco-de-mayo.
When it comes down to it, Cinco de Mayo is all about avocados and beer.
[Featured Image by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images]