Cinco de Mayo (“5th of May”) is more than an excuse to drink margaritas. The festival actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 – a victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over the French. The date is observed as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride around the world. The Battle of Puebla delayed the French invasion of Mexico City. Five years later, Mexican forces defeated the French and expelled them from Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that commemorates a battle fought in Mexico on the fifth of May in 1862—a battle that became an unexpected victory for the Mexican army over the French forces. Mexico was attacked by foreign troops because President Benito Juárez defaulted on his payments to European nations after war had depleted the country’s ability to pay.

Mexico had endured three wars that put their country in debt: In 1821, they fought for their independence from Spain; from 1846 to 1848 they fought against America; and in 1857 they began their own civil war. When Mexico defaulted on its loans, France, Britain, and Spain sent troops to demand repayment. But Napoleon III had other plans—to take the country and install a French monarch. Britain and Spain would not get involved with this, but 6,000 French troops went up against 2,000 Mexicans in the town of Puebla on the May 5, 1862. Mexico was victorious. When Napoleon III later returned with more forces and installed Arch Duke Maximillian to rule, “Cinco de Mayo” became the rallying cry for the fight against the French occupation. They celebrated each year with song, dance, and food to remain focused on regaining the country and retaining their heritage. Mexico finally won their independence in 1867, when Arch Duke Maximillian was overthrown. He was executed that same year.

Cinco de Mayo has a history that runs deep and continues to serve as a vehicle conveying Mexican culture, pride and values.

Also on this day in history…

Philosopher Karl Marx is born (1818); France’s Napoleon Bonaparte dies (1821);  Carnegie Hall opens in New York (1891);  Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space (1961); and IRA member Bobby Sands dies during a prison hunger strike (1981)