While we all know how we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, many of us don’t know why we do. For those of us who like to observe the holiday well into the night with a few rounds of Bohemia or Dos Equis, it can appear as nothing more than a Latino’s St. Patrick’s Day – albeit with less green and better music. But this year, between shots of Patron and shouts of “¡Salud!” to your compadres, impress them with your knowledge of the day’s historical significance and cultural expressions across Mexico and the United States.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. That would be September 16, 1810, the day Mexicans finally sent the Spaniards packing. But the confusion is understandable. The fifth of May marks another defeat over foreign imperialist forces in Mexico. But if it wasn’t the Spanish getting whooped, then who was it?

Well, at some point in every great country’s history, it is bound by international law to defeat the French in battle. Cinco de Mayo was Mexico’s turn. With a few notable exceptions, it is the French who typically start the fight before going on to lose so badly. Such was the case in 1862, where our story begins.

Cinco de Mayo Stamp

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