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What is Cinco de Mayo really about?

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Quick Answer

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrated in the United States and Mexico, commemorating Mexico's 1862 victory in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico and a celebration of Mexican culture in the United States.

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Full Answer

In 1861, Mexico was experiencing financial difficulties, resulting in its default on its debts to several European countries. France, England and Spain sent naval forces to Mexico to collect the debt. England and Spain came to terms with Mexico on the debt. France, under Napoleon's leadership, choose to force the issue. France's 6,000 troops attacked a poorly equipped 2,000 troops from Mexico, but France lost 500 men, while Mexico lost 100. The French retreated on May 5, leading to the celebration. While the war continued until the United States brought assistance 6 years later, the defeat was a symbolic victory for Mexico.

While many people in the United States believe Cinco de Mayo is Mexico's Independence Day, that holiday actually occurs in September. In Mexico, the September date remains the more important one and has larger celebrations. One theory about the importance of Cinco de Mayo in the United States is that the people who left Mexico after the battle continued celebrating the date in their new home, according to About.com.

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