Cinco de Mayo, “The Fifth of May,” is not Mexican Independence Day, as is popularly believed. Mexican Independence Day is September 16, 1810, when a Roman Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the town of Dolores called for the liberation of Mexico and Texas from Spain. It would be another 10 years of war before that independence was won. 15 years later, March 2, 1836, Texas would declare it’s independence from Mexico. Nine years after that, December 29, 1845, Texas became the 28th U.S. state.
Cinco de Mayo comes 17 years after annexation, 26 years after Texan independence and 52 years after Mexican independence, May 5, 1862 while the U.S. was fighting it’s Civil War.
After the Mexican-American War (1846-48) and the Reform War (1858-1861) the French forces occupied Mexico, because the Mexican treasury was bankrupt and could not pay debt owed to France. A virtually unstoppable force of 6,000 French troops marched toward Mexico City.
On May 5th the force of 6,000 French troops, the premiere army in the world, attacked Mexican army troops of around 2,000. The Mexicans crushed the French in one of the world’s all-time unlikely upsets. It was not a strategic victory in the war, but an emotional and symbolic one. In fact, a year later the French would occupy Mexico City with 30,000 troops for three years before Mexico was recovered, with policial and military help from the post-Civil-War U.S. Since then, no country in the Americas has been successfully invaded by a European force.
Cinco de Mayo is a a border festival, celebrated in Mexico, Texas, California and other border states. More than a celebration of the Battle of Pueblo, it has become a celebration of Mexican-American heritage. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Canada.
Marketers, especially beer companies have picked up on the celebration (any excuse for a party) and pushed the event in Houston, Los Angeles and other areas with strong Mexican-American populations. Fiestas can be found in over 150 places, all over the U.S., including places like St. Paul Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois. Wikipedia says Los Angeles’ Fiesta Broadway is the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world. In Mexico it’s a national holiday.
In Houston Cinco de Mayo takes over. DJs, pulgas (flea markets), block parties, norteña, cook offs, face painting, fajitas, ribs, margaritas and more. A downtown parade with floats, mariachis and other entertainment will be held 10 am Saturday (starting at Texas and Hamilton). Tien Huicani and the Villalobos Brothers are at the Miller Outdoor Theater on Hermann Park Drive 7:30 Friday night. A jalopeña eating contest is being held at the Kemah Boardwalk. Every night club and bar gets into the action. Free taxi and Uber rides are available Friday 5 pm to Saturday 10 am.