Cinco de Mayo: UIW professor explains its origins and significance

Many people celebrate Cinco de Mayo by drinking or eating Mexican-inspired dishes, however, some may not know its historical origins.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on May 5, after the Mexican Army defeated the invading French Army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Dr. Gilberto Hinojosa, history professor emeritus at the University of Incarnate Word, said it’s a day for Mexicans and Mexican Americans to celebrate self-determination.

“Has become an occasion for Mexicans and now Mexican-Americans to say we determine our own destiny,” Hinojosa said.

He explains it stems from a complicated history.

“The French were there because they had been in Veracruz, the Port of Veracruz, the most important port in Mexico,” Hinojosa said. “And they were collecting the tariffs in order to repay a loan Mexico owed France.”

Mexico had stopped paying France because it had several civil wars going on. Mexico was trying to determine how it would rule, through a strong central government or through state governments. The French were invited by the Mexican Conservatives, the group that wanted a strong central government. When Mexico defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla, it created a sense of unity for Mexico.

“It created a, you know, a sense of — We won out against this foreign power,” Hinojosa said. “I mean, it’s big. I mean, it’s like, it’s something like Ukraine and Russia.”

Hinojosa explains its victory was remembered as a hard-fought symbol of the entire war against the French and the Mexican Conservatives.

He said Cinco de Mayo gives Mexican Americans — and all Americans — an occasion to reflect on our rich Mexican heritage.

“This is why it’s a good holiday for Mexican origin, Latinos or Mexican-Americans,” Hinojosa said. “It’s talking about Mexicaness as well, without necessarily the attachments for nationhood or the nation as maybe Mexican independence has.”

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