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What is the History Behind Cinco de Mayo?

For many Americans, Cinco de Mayo means enjoying Mexican food and probably a few margaritas — but what is the history behind the holiday?
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Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's independence day, which is celebrated on September 16. Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army's unlikely 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

In 1861, Benito Juárez—a lawyer and member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe—was elected president of Mexico. In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding repayment of debt. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces. France, however, decided to use the opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz and drove President Juárez and his government into retreat.

Certain that success would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a force of 2,000 loyal men—many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry—and sent them to Puebla.

On May 5, 1862, the French attacked the city of Puebla, ensuing in a daylong battle. When the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers while fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed. The Battle of Puebla on May 5 marked a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement. In 1867—thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States —France finally withdrew.

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with substantial Mexican-American populations. Today, revelers mark the occasion with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano — and lots of margaritas.

We have found a couple of events to celebrate Mexican traditions and the revolutionary, victorious spirit of Cinco de Mayo -- before you go for some margaritas at your favorite spot.

Prospect Park Run, BK Reader
Photo credit: NYC Parks/ FB

22nd Annual Cinco de Mayo 5K Run

Why not commemorate the "holiday" with a leisurely — or not so leisurely -- 5K run in Prospect Park? Join the Mexican Athletic Club of New York for another year of family and friends, competitive fun, and by far the best part... the children's races!

When: Sunday, May 5, 11:00am (rain or shine)

Where: Bartel-Pritchard Square, Prospect Park Southwest, Brooklyn, NY 11215

How much: $30. To sign up, go here.

Mariachi Estrella Juvenil
Mariachi Estrella Juvenil. Photo credit: GigMasters

Nitehawk Cinema Presents: Book of Life with Live Mariachi

Join Nitehawk Cinema for a special brunch with a live mariachi performance by Mariachi Estrella Juvenil and a screening of Book of Life. 

Book of Life follows the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears.

When: Sunday, May 5, Sunday, May 5, 10:15am

Where: Nitehawk Cinema, 188 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215

How much: $18. For tickets, go here.

CINCO at House of Yes

House of Yes is getting worldly-wild with a fiesta fiasco of cross-cultural pollination blended to perfection. Come dressed to dance and appreciate the venue's offerings, but please do not wear Mexican culture as a costume, the Bushwick party-makers ask. Dj Mickey Perez and Milagro Verde will serve the funkiest sounds from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, U.S., Europe and Asia.

When: Sunday, May 5, beginning at 3:00pm until...whenever.

Where: House of Yes, 2 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237

How much: FREE. All. Day.

More Frida on Cinco de Mayo at Brooklyn Museum

In honor of their hit exhibit, "Frida Kahlo, Appearances Can Be Deceiving," running through May 12, Brooklyn Museum presents two daytime events on Sunday: A pop-up shop from the East Village's La Sirena, which curates and vends Mexican folk art, crafts and more treasures, as well as a guided talk through the Kahlo exhibit. Those who need more Frida in their lives can also dance the night away at the ¡Viva Frida Kahlo! dance party on Friday, May 10, featuring live music by Radio Jarocho, art-making with feminist Latinx art collective Colectiva Cósmical, as well as DJ sets by Chulita Vinyl Club, a tribute to Chavela Vargas performed by Claudia Valentina. For more details and tickets, go here.

Frida Pop-up and Talks

When: Sunday, May 5, various times.

How much: Free with admission to the exhibition. For more info, go here.

Where: Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238

 ¡Viva Frida Kahlo! Dance Party

When: Friday, May 10, 8:00pm - 11:00pm

How much: $15, for tickets go here.

Where: Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238