Today, May 5, marks Cinco de Mayo, a holiday most Americans celebrate by cracking open a few Coronas or downing margaritas. But do you know what you’re raising a glass to?
Here are five facts you should know about Cinco de Mayo.
1. Cinco de Mayo is rooted in money—namely, unpaid debt. Suffering from the ravages of war and economic devastation, Mexico’s President Benito Juárez put a moratorium on repaying the country’s debts, and the French didn’t take kindly to that decision. The French army descended on Veracruz in 1862, demanding their dinero, and setting off the events of Cinco de Mayo.
2. The day marks the May 5 battle that saw Mexico’s ragtag militia defeat the mighty French, then considered the most dominant military worldwide. Mexico had at least 2,000-4,000 fewer fighters, and many were farmers armed with makeshift weapons. But, as the Battle of Puebla commenced, French Gen. Charles Latrille de Lorencez “arrogantly” (say some historians) attacked the Mexican forces’ strongest position. The Mexican forces held their ground, exhausting the French, before picking off their foes.
3. Cinco de Mayo could have changed the course of U.S. history. The French were keen to see a weakened United States, which was embroiled in the Civil War at the time. Had the French gotten a stronghold in Mexico, the forces likely would have aided the Confederacy, and the Civil War could have had a very different outcome.
4. Don’t wish Mexicans a happy Independence Day today. Cinco de Mayo is commonly confused with Mexico’s Independence Day, but that occurs on Sept. 16, the day in 1810 when the Mexican War of Independence against Spain began. In fact, only parts of Mexico even celebrate Cinco de Mayo—it’s a regional, not federal, holiday.
5. That margarita you’re sipping to celebrate Cinco de Mayo wasn’t around on the original day. Historical accounts place the margarita’s earliest invention sometime in the 1930s; others say it was closer to 1950. And if you’re toasting with a frozen margarita? Well, that didn’t come along until 1971.
Bonus facts! Curious about the number of tamales or enchiladas produced in the U.S.? How about how many Mexican-Americans are U.S. military veterans? The U.S. Census Bureau put together this list of Cinco de Mayo-related facts and figures on America’s relationship with Mexico.