Cinco de Mayo Isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day
by David Klemt
When planning and executing Cinco de Mayo promotions and menus it’s important to be respectful and understand what this day commemorates.
One step toward honoring this holiday rather than making a mockery of it? Knowing that Cinco de Mayo honors the Battle of Puebla, which took place in 1862.
This day isn’t—and I can’t stress this enough—Mexican Independence Day.
Fight for Independence
Mexican Independence Day is September 16, not May 5. Mexico was also called “New Spain” when the land was a colony under Spanish rule. And by most historical accounts, this 300-year rule wasn’t benevolent.
A Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, colloquially known as Father Hidalgo, dared to call for independence on September 16, 1810. Father Hidalgo rang the bell of his church in Dolores and delivered the famous “Grito de Dolores” speech (“Shout (or Cry) of Dolores).
It took over a decade of ferocious, brutal fighting for Mexico to earn its independence. Spain withdrew from the Mexican War of Independence on August 24, 1821. On that same date, Spain recognized Mexico as independent country. Mexico honors their independence by celebrating the day that Father Hidalgo, the Father of Mexican Independence, delivered his rousing speech.
Battle of Puebla
Just over four decades after defeating Spain, Mexico would be forced into another pivotal fight. I won’t get into the entire history here but France invaded Mexico.
Initially, Spain and the United Kingdom supported the invasion. Further, much of the world believed France would easily and quickly emerge victorious. After all, France sent a military force with superior equipment.
This wasn’t the first time France invaded Mexico, and it wouldn’t be the last. That’s another important detail to keep in mind: Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day, and it doesn’t the mark the end of the Franco-Mexican War.
Cinco de Mayo, mainly celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla, is about national pride. Outnumbered two to one and outgunned, Mexico forced the retreat of a military force that hadn’t experienced defeat for several decades on May 5, 1862.
The war didn’t end until the French withdrew from Mexico in 1867. During this time, the American Civil War was raging. Additionally, United States policy at the time was to remain neutral regarding wars in other countries. That said, historians point to Secretary of State William H. Seward as helping encourage France’s withdrawal.
However, I’d posit that it’s likely fierce resistance and failure to achieve victory easily over Mexican military forces that inspired France to abandon their campaign in Mexico.
Celebrate with Respect
It’s generally accepted that the first Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the US took place in California. Well over a century after Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla, restaurants and bars across America were leveraging the holiday.
Again, it’s important to remember that Cinco de Mayo isn’t celebrated the same way in Mexico as it is the US. There are celebrations in Puebla but overall, it’s seen as a minor holiday.
When planning Cinco de Mayo promotions, it’s important that operators and their teams be respectful. May 5, 1862 wasn’t a party—hundreds of people died during the Battle of Puebla. Perhaps this comparison will help: Americans should know better than to say, “Happy Memorial Day,” on Memorial Day. It’s a day of mourning and remembering those who sacrificed their lives fighting for the country.
So, please celebrate with respect. Respect for Mexico and respect for Mexican culture and heritage. Don’t have your team put on sombreros, don fake mustaches, shake maracas, or engage in any other ridiculously racist stereotyping. I shouldn’t have to say this but don’t engage with racial or cultural stereotypes any day, ever, for your marketing and promotions.
Along those lines, don’t speak Spanish disrespectfully. That includes rejecting “Cinco de Drinko” or “Gringo de Mayo” in your marketing.
That said, if Mexican food and beverage staples make sense for your concept, feature them. Does your kitchen team make amazing, authentic tamales, tacos, and other items? Awesome. Showcase your tequilas, mezcals, and Margaritas. Offer the Batanga (but probably don’t give guests the knife).
Just be thoughtful and respectful with your Cinco de Mayo promotions.