Tacos, nachos, “sombreros” (hats), mustaches, “fiesta”, mariachi, and many other things and terms we recognize from this Cinco de Mayo celebration. But what is its real origin? It is Mexico’s main celebration? Who is Ignacio Zaragoza and why is he important for this date?

Cinco de Mayo is an important date in Mexico, but it is not its main national celebration. As some wrongly believe, it is not Mexico’s celebration of independence, that happened 200 years ago. This date is actually celebrated on the evening of September 15.

National Geographic (May 2018)

Cinco de Mayo dates the Battle of Puebla that occurred on May 5th, 1862. In this battle, Mexicans defeated the French army against all odds when they were trying to invade the country.

Puebla is a city located less than 2 hours away from Mexico City, the country’s capital. They knew they had to defeat Puebla to get into the heart of the country. The French army, which was superior in numbers and experience, was defeated by General Ignacio Zaragoza and its Mexican army.

This was a great victory for a country that recently gained independence and also had just lost a big part of its territory. And this is where Zaragoza comes in and the reason it is a celebration, especially in the US.

Zaragoza was born in Texas, 16 years before the territory became part of the US. So, he was a Mexican born on a territory that now belonged to another country. The battle he won represented what a lot of local Mexicans on the new territory and other minorities wanted. To stand against the oppression by the invaders. It became a symbol of cultural expression for local Mexicans who were now part of the US and also for new Latin migrants.

The legend says that a group of Mexicans started to pay tribute to Zaragoza and the victory of the battle of May 5th, 5 years after the battle. Since then, each year Latins took this celebration as an expression of their roots and a way to claim equality of rights for their minority on the new territory.

The celebration grew and years later local governments took the celebration as an official celebration for their citizens until it became a national celebration and a party known worldwide. It’s a way of celebrating the multiculturalism of a country rich in cultures like the US, Canada, and many more.