Many people assume the Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day, known as Día de la Independencia or Grito de Dolores. However, Mexican Independence Day marks the anniversary of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain on 16 September 1810.
Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May), is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, but in the United States it has evolved into a major celebration of Mexican heritage and culture, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. The question is WHY?
The historical significance of Cinco de Mayo is an interesting story.
In the mid-1800's, Mexico was in financial ruin as a result of years of internal chaos and was forced to default on payments to European governments. France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding payment. Spain and Britain were able to negotiate a settlement and withdrew their forces. The French, however, ruled by Napoleon III, decided this was an excellent opportunity to carve out an empire in Mexico. Late in 1861, the French fleet stormed Veracruz. Confident that with their 6,000 troops, success would come swiftly as they moved to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in central Mexico.
On May 5, 1862, the vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans defeated the French in this battle. The hero of the Battle of Puebla, General Ignacio Zaragosa, was a Texan, born near what is now Goliad, Texas. While not considered a major battle in Mexico's war against the French, the Battle of Puebla was certainly a symbolic victory.
Another interesting piece of this story is the connection with the American Civil War.