Cinco de Mayo: Why do Americans celebrate it?

By Elizabeth Young

You've probably heard of Cinco de Mayo before, as visions of tacos, margaritas, and ice-cold Coronas dance around in your head. But what is Cinco de Mayo really all about, and why do Americans celebrate this holiday?

Mexican food.

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo is a frequently misunderstood holiday. People often mistake the date for when Mexico became independent from Spain. However, the date actually commemorates a failed French invasion from 1861 to 1862, after a young Mexico defaulted on its debt payments to European governments. The French launched their invasion in late 1861 and forced the Mexican government to retreat to the north.

Very confident of further victories, the French focused their attention on one place—Puebla de Los Angeles. This attack, though, was anticipated by Mexican President Benito Juárez, and when the French finally attacked, on May 5, 1862, the French had to retreat after losing almost 500 soldiers. The Mexican forces, on the other hand, lost fewer than 100.

Does all of Mexico celebrate?

While the battle was not strategically significant, it represented a symbolic victory for the Mexican forces and added to the resistance. Today, only the town of Puebla celebrate the day, which begs the question, why is it so popular in the U.S.?

Why is it celebrated in the U.S.?

Many people in the U.S. think Cinco de Mayo is in celebration of Mexico's independence, but Mexican Independence Day is actually on September 16. So why is Cinco de Mayo such a big deal?

In the 1950s and 60s, Latino activists appropriated the holiday and promoted it as a way to raise awareness and build Mexican-American pride. It was seen as an opportunity to celebrate Mexican culture and identity, promote ethnic consciousness, and build community solidarity. Slowly, celebrations acquired corporate sponsors, and year after year, the holiday took on a more commercial element.

Now, Cinco de Mayo is promoted as the day to celebrate Mexican food, culture, traditions, and, for many people, alcohol. For many, the holiday is like Saint Patrick's Day—an excuse to drink—but it's also an opportunity for people to learn more and engage with Mexican culture and history.

Let's take this opportunity to explore the real Mexico and all it has to offer.

Where should I stay?

Eco-Friendly Tent in Tulum

This is a bell tent in Tulum, Mexico

Guests will be close to sandy white beaches and lush tropical jungles during their nature retreat in Tulum, Mexico. This glamping site is situated on an organic permaculture farm in the colorful town of Tulum, which is rich in archaeological features and has many excellent restaurants and cafes.

Tropical Bungalow Rental on the Yucatán Peninsula

This is a vacation rental on the Yucatan Peninsula

Located in Southeastern Mexico on the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula, the beautiful Quintana Roo region is home to the ancient Mayan ruins of Chacchoben, Cobá, Tulum, Xel-Há, and Xcaret. Full of rich history and culture, this region is ideal for an adventurous Caribbean glamping vacation. The area is popular for snorkeling, windsurfing, diving, cycling, and more!

Beachfront Rental on the Costa Azul

This is a photo of a beachfront rental on the Costa Azul in Mexico.

This property is located on a privately-owned peninsula along Mexico's renowned and prestigious Riviera Nayarit coast. Set cliffside and overlooking the ocean, this glamping site is just north of Puerto Vallarta. Nestled between sandy beaches and the small pueblos of San Pancho and Sayulita, guests have easy access to restaurants, beach bars, and local shops, as well as are just 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta International Airport.

Luxury Camping Experience on Isla del Espiritu Santo

This is a photo of a luxury tent on Isla del Espiritu Santo in Mexico.

This luxury camping site is set on an island off the coast of Baja California Sur—and close to the capital, La Paz—in Mexico. The property is located on a stunning beach and forms part of the Espiritu Santo National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is short boat ride from the mainland and is situated next to Isla Partida.


For even more accommodation options, head to Glamping Hub for a look at our full inventory in Mexico!