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6 Sites for Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

May 05, 2010
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Cinco de Mayo—May 5—is a festive, lively Mexican celebration that has become increasingly popular in the United States. These six sites summarize the history of the holiday, highlight some contemporary celebrations and make suggestions as to how and where to enjoy Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo History and Traditions

Although many believe Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, May 5 actually marks the day that Mexico defeated France at the battle of Puebla in 1862.

In 1861, Mexico was financially ruined and greatly indebted to European countries such as France, Britain and Spain. While Britain and Spain reached an agreement with Mexico through peaceful negotiation, France chose to demand its reimbursement violently, sending troops to Mexico and forcing President Benito Juarez to retreat. Even though the battle of Puebla, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, did not give Mexico a definitive victory in the overall war against the French, it symbolized the country’s capacity to defend its autonomy against a powerful foreign invader, and was a great moral triumph for the Mexicans.

Today, Cinco de Mayo has crossed the border, and is also widely celebrated across the United States. Due to its increasing popularity, the significance of this Mexican holiday in the U.S. has shifted through the decades.

As National Geographic explains, Cinco de Mayo gained popularity in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s, acting as a bridge between the Mexican and American cultures and a tribute to the U.S. government’s Good Neighbor policy, an effort to extend a hand to neighboring countries. In the process, Cinco de Mayo was transformed from an entirely nationalist celebration into a bicultural holiday that celebrated Mexican-American identity and pride.
By the 1980s, however, it began to evolve into a commercialized holiday as American alcohol companies sought to expand their sales by tapping into Hispanic populations. The holiday “changed from community self-determination to a drinking holiday for many people.” Still, Cinco de Mayo can be seen as a positive celebration that brings Latino and non-Latino populations closer as a unified community.

Where to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Many cities in the U.S., particularly those with a prominent Hispanic population, host elaborate festivals and celebrations on May 5, which include pageants, parades, traditional food and abundant drinks. Santa Barbara, Calif., for instance, hosts a Cinco de Mayo Festival with food, art, music, dancing, traditional crafts and activities for kids. This year, Santa Barbara will be organizing its 18th annual event. Visit the site for a map of downtown Santa Barbara, a calendar of events, photos, history of Cinco de Mayo and more.

Washington, D.C. has a celebration hosted by the famous Maru Montero Dance Company, with traditional music and dancing at the Washington Monument. As Montero explains, “Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but we have turned it into a day of celebration for all Latinos living here and for all Americans who enjoy the culture.” The organization’s motto is “On Cinco de Mayo, everybody’s Latino.” To entertain younger visitors, the festival includes crafts like piñata- and puppet-making, and Latin American food is served. The Web site has more information on the details of the event, and links to coverage of Cinco de Mayo celebrations from previous years.

Cinco de Mayo was originally celebrated in the town of Puebla, one of the most captivating of Mexico’s colonial cities. Spanish and Moorish influences are prominent in the culture, architecture and cuisine of Puebla; some of the most popular Mexican dishes, such as mole and chile poblano, originated in this town. Unfortunately, due to the current swine flu crisis, traveling to Mexico is not recommended, and many major airlines are canceling their flights to the country.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo at Home

It isn’t necessary to travel in order to enjoy a Cinco de Mayo experience. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in your own home is easy with an array of colorful activities, decorations, music and traditional Mexican dishes. Entertain your adult guests with a selection of classic and flavored margaritas, and make kids feel included in the celebration by helping them with crafts and other decorations such as sombreros, Mexican flags and maracas. Easy Mexican foods such as salsa, burritos, tacos, guacamole and enchiladas add authenticity to your party and help you create the perfect Cinco de Mayo ambiance.

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