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Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day

ASU students will celebrate May 5 more than most in Mexico


"Cinco de Mayo may be misunderstood by many Americans." Illustration published on Thursday, April 26, 2018.

In Arizona, Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated by students who are looking for an excuse to party. In many parts of Mexico, it will be just another Saturday. 

The holiday has seen a mass increase of attention over the past few decades due to its commercialization.  Somewhere along the line, there was a disconnect between the history of the holiday and those that celebrate it, said Alexander Aviña, an associate professor in Latin American history at ASU. 

Aviña said Cinco de Mayo is not a very important holiday in Mexico and mainly celebrated only in the State of Puebla. Mexico’s actual Independence Day is on Sept. 16 and is one of the most celebrated holidays there.

Read more: Art Murmur: Mexican Independence Day

Cinco de Mayo draws its roots from Mexican-American communities in the U.S. celebrating the surprise Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla, Aviña said.

There, Mexican troops defeated the French army — the strongest in the world at the time — even though the Mexican forces were sorely outnumbered and poorly armed. 

“Mexican populations in California and throughout the Southwest started to celebrate it as an affirmation of Mexican heritage within territories that had just been conquered two decades before by the United States,” Aviña said. 

The Battle of Puebla took place near the city of Puebla in Mexico on May 5, 1862.

“This battle, what it does, is it gives something for Mexican populations living in the United States something to be proud of,” Aviña said. “It helps create a certain Mexican identity that transcends borders.”

The holiday can still serve as a celebration of Mexican culture and identity for those living in the United States. 

However, Aviña said the way Cinco de Mayo looks and feels has changed a lot over the past few decades. He said he had a different experience with the holiday growing up in California in the 1980s.

“The celebration of Cinco de Mayo was limited to spaces that were inhabited or owned by people of Mexican descent,” Aviña said. 

The holiday has entered the mainstream and is often celebrated by those who are not of Mexican heritage, he said.

“Now on Cinco de Mayo, you can drive around and see all of these businesses and all of these bars and restaurants, they have stuff out, advertisements — 'Come Celebrate Here',” Aviña said.

Many businesses and influential figures see Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to target the Mexican-American community because it is indisputable that the demographic has a strong purchasing power, he said.

Luis Hernandez, a Dobson high school student born in Mexico who will attend ASU in the fall of 2018 as a biology major, said there is a disconnect between what people perceive of the holiday compared to its minimal relevance to Hispanics in general.

Luis said his family does not celebrate Cinco de Mayo despite their strong ties to their Mexican heritage.

“We see it more as an American holiday,” Luis said.

He said he mostly sees people that are not in the community celebrating, but he doesn't mind it because it shows support for his culture.

Oscar Hernandez, an ASU public policy senior also born in Mexico, said he also sees the holiday as Americanized but still celebrates it with his friends for fun.

“It’s not one of those holidays that you gather family members,” Oscar said. “I think it is a more casual holiday.”

Aviña said that he also does not mind that more people are getting involved and celebrating, but he would like to see more cultural awareness. 

“I’m not one to say don’t party, don’t have a great time,” Aviña said. “I’ll be happy if people have some sort of basic level of historical understanding of why it is being celebrated.”  

Reach the reporters at and or follow @quintinbingham and @ivonne_arballo on Twitter.

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