Cinco de Mayo commemorates a surprising Mexican army victory over invading French forces in the First Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862.
France attacked Mexico in the autumn of 1861, ostensibly to recover debts owed to European nations after the Mexican government suspended interest payments to them in the summer of that year. The French enlisted Great Britain and Spain to their cause. The three countries entered into the Convention of London together to determine a mutual course of action for repayment of Mexican debts.
The French, however, had bigger plans of restoring a monarchy in Mexico that would help them achieve a leading role in the new world. When the Spanish and British discovered the French intentions, they withdrew from the coalition.
Supported by the conservative Catholic majority among Mexico’s elite, the French expected an easy victory in their intervention. The unexpected Mexican victory at Puebla slowed the French advance and delayed their capture of Mexico City.
The French subsequently overran the Mexicans in later battles, but for one brief moment the small Mexican Army held firm against a larger and better equipped enemy.
After regrouping and calling in reinforcements, the French were victorious, and on 10 July 1863 declared the establishment of the Second Mexican Empire. With the support of wealthy Mexican landowners and both the Austrian and Belgian crowns, the French successfully installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico.
The Second Mexican Empire proved to be short lived, however, ending in the execution of Maximilian I by firing squad on 19 June 1867.
Cinco de Mayo Today
Today Cinco de Mayo has morphed into a popular celebration of Mexican heritage bigger in the United States than it is in Mexico. With over 30 million people of Mexican heritage living in the USA, crowds turn out in their green, white and red for parties, parades, and a Mexican style good time.
Big cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston have huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Other cities do, too. Mexican restaurants, bars and pubs, microbreweries, nightclubs — pretty much any social venue can find a reason to turn Cinco de Mayo into a party.
Here are five of our favorite Cinco de Mayo party conversation starters.
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