All About Cinco De Mayo

Cinco De Mayo Facts and Activities For Kids and Teachers

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The celebration of Cinco de Mayo (meaning 5th of May in Spanish) should not be confused with Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on 15th September (eve of Independence Day) while Cinco de Mayo falls on 5th of May. Mexico declared its independence from Spain on 24th August, 1821. This modern holiday begain when a group of California State University students decided to hold the first Cinco de Mayo commemoration in the United States. This was around 1967. The students felt that there was no Chicano holidays and needed to do something about it. They wanted something to recapture their history and identity and decided that the Battle of Puebla was symbolic and they could connect it to their struggle for the formation of a Chicano Studies program at the university.

Read more about Mexico's History of Independence here.


Cinco de Mayo is not an American Holiday but it is celebrated on a much larger scale by Chicanos in the U.S. than in Mexico. In Mexico, the celebration of Independence Day is considered more important. Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the courage of the Mexican people during the battle (La Batalla de Puebla) on May 5th, 1862 where 4,500 Mexican soldiers defeated the Mexican traitors (exiled Mexican Convervatives) and French army of 6,500 at Puebla, Mexico . Puebla is 100 miles east of Mexico City. The Mexican forces were made up of untrained commoners. This victory did not win the war but it showed the courage and strength of the Mexican troops. The "Batalla de Puebla" became a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism.

After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the country was faced with many problems. There were internal power struggles and during the dictatorship of Santa Anna, Mexico went to war with the United States in 1846. This war and the years of fighting put Mexico in a very bad financial position. It was bankrupt. Mexico had to give away a huge portion of its land to the United States. That land is now known as Texas.

Read more about the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)

Read more about Our War with Mexico

In 1855, Benito Juarez became the Minister of Justice. Juarez issued a series of reforms (called Ley Juarez):

  • Abolished fueros and the use of special military and ecclesiastical courts in civil cases.
  • All church property except buildings used for worship was confiscated without any compensation. Money from sale of these properties were confiscated.
  • Non-civil marriages were declared annulled.
  • Separation of church and state was proclaimed.
  • Cemeteries were now public property and burial fees abolished.

In 1861, he took control of the capital and put these laws into effect. These laws caused civil unrest and a civil war broke out. This created a national debt. Benito Juarez had to take action and on July 17, 1861, he issued a statement that all foreign debts payment would temporary be stopped for two years. After two years, payments would resume. The English, Spanish and French were not very happy about this. They went to Mexico to try to make Mexico pay. The English and Spanish negotiated and left. The French did not agree and did not leave together with the English and Spanish. They had a different motive. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. The French army moved into Mexico in 1862. They even brought a Hapsburg prince, Maximilian and his wife, Carolota with them to rule the new Mexican empire. It is also believed that the reason for the French occupation was that Napoleon III wanted to check the power of the United States before it became too powerful.

In 1862, the French army, equipped with the finest and modern equipment began its advance. The Mexicans troops under the command of Texas -born General Ignacio Zaragosa was comprised of 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians. The cavalry was under the command of Colonel Porfirio Diaz, later to be Mexico's president and dictator. Although the Mexican troopes were also outnumbered, they managed to defeat the French army with their determination and spirit. Puebla was officially renamed Puebla de Zaragoza to honor its defender, General Zaragoza. However, this victory was short lived. The following March, France, under French general Elie-Frederic Forey successfully conquered Puebla and the rest of Mexico with a troop of 30,000.

Later, resistance by many Mexicans and pressure from the United States made France withdrew its troops from Mexico in 1866 and 1867 and the French-backed government soon fell. Juarez was returned to power where he ruled until his death in 1872.

Read more about the The Battle of Puebla

This victory also kept Napoleon III from supplying the Confederate rebels for another year, thus giving time for the United States to build the greatest army in the world. This army defeated the Confederates at Gettysburg and ended the Civil War.

Union forces were then sent to the Texas/Mexican border who made sure supplies of weapon and ammunition reached the Mexicans needed to fight the French. American soldiers were also encouraged to join the Mexican army to fight the French. In the Victory Parade in Mexico City, the American Legion of Honor marched along.

Read more about Mexico - History of Reforms and French Intervention


The reasons why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale in the United States is maybe because :

  • If it had not been for the victory, France would have aided the South in the American Civil War and this would have an impact on the war.
  • Chicanos celebrates this day in appreciation of its cultural and historical significance.
  • General Ignacio Zaragosa was born in Texas when it was still part of Mexico and is considered to be a Chicano hero.

However, today this holiday is more of a celebration of Mexican culture, food, music and beverage unique to Mexico.

Read more about:

Are Chicanos the same as Mexicans?

Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement Timeline

Find lesson plans and activities here.
Activities with songs and fingerplays about Cinco de Mayo
Have fun here. Lots of activities and games for kids and even adults.
Make these fun Cinco De Mayo crafts with your kids.
Printable worksheets and coloring activities for kids.
Original cliparts

Let kids watch this video about Mexico

Director: Mocomikids
Education Mexico Fun Fact Series

Music of Mexico - Son, Ranchera, Mariachi
Mexican History Timeline
Brief history and timeline and comparison to the rest of the world.
A Pinata Tradition
4 Jumping Beans
Are they for real? What makes it jump?
Official & Religious Mexican Holidays
Find out more about their other holidays

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