If you’ve noticed a sudden dearth of avocados, limes, Corona Extras and Jose Cuervo at your local grocery store over the past couple of days, don’t panic — no one is conspiring against you. Instead, your neighbors are simply stocking up for Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and all over the United States with delicious Mexican cuisine, far too much alcohol and plenty of fanfare.
But Cinco de Mayo (“the fifth of May”) is much more than an entertaining way to forget an entire day’s worth of events. The holiday owes its origins to the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when the Mexican army overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat invading French forces from conquering the state of Puebla. The victory remains a cause for commemoration nearly 150 years later.
Interestingly enough, Cinco de Mayo isn’t celebrated in Mexico nearly as much as it is in the United States, as the country’s most widely recognized national patriotic holiday is actually Mexican Independence Day on September 16. But Cinco de Mayo gets plenty of attention in the U.S. not just from Mexican-Americans, but also from anybody interested in seeking out new forms of cultural exposure — largely due to the efforts of liquor companies and Mexican restaurants.
Last year, MTV Tr3s sent comedian Cristela Alonzo to Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street to report on the community’s deep understanding of Cinco del Mayo. While the holiday has historic roots, Alonzo acknowledged that many participants view Cinco de Mayo as “an excuse to get drunk and party.” But as Alonzo learned, enjoying the rowdier aspects of Cinco de Mayo doesn’t have to come at the expense of forgetting the holiday’s cultural significance.
“What’s important is to remember the meaning behind the holiday,” she reported of her findings. “It’s about freedom and to celebrate those who had the courage to defend it.”
So as you immerse yourself in today’s festivities, make sure to put your ice cold cerveza down long enough to acknowledge the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, a holiday built on the foundation of freedom.