Pictured: Enchiladas Verdes
Many Americans believe that Cinco de Mayo ("May 5th" in Spanish) commemorates Mexico's independence from Spain. In fact, it began as a local holiday that celebrated Mexico's defeat of the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
America's fondness for ethnic traditions of all stripes, the overwhelming popularity of Mexican cuisine, and the recent rebirth of Mexican pride on both sides of the Rio Grande make Cinco de Mayo a larger and more widely celebrated festival each year.
Cinco de Mayo in Mexico
Cinco de Mayo is full of celebratory music and dance, delicious food and drinks galore. The festival has been embraced throughout the U.S., even by those whose Spanish consists of three familiar words: fiesta, cerveza, and margarita. In Mexico, preparations for the festival mirror the infectious spirit of Mardi Gras float-building in New Orleans. Cinco de Mayo unites communities with military parades, bullfights, battle enactments, mariachi bands, piñatas, and dances with castanets and brightly colored traditional costumes which electrify cheering crowds.
A History Lesson
At the battle of Puebla, the future of independent Mexico was at stake. Having thrown off Spain's colonial control some 50 years earlier, Mexico had been weakened by war with the United States, followed by a civil war. That's when Napoleon III (Bonaparte's nephew) saw a chance for France's domination of the Western Hemisphere. For Mexico, rule by another major power was unacceptable.
The new nation had ratified a constitution much like its neighbor's to the north, guaranteeing freedoms no one wanted to lose. Although outnumbered by Napoleon's invading army of 6,500 seasoned troops, heroic Mexican defenders rallied and defeated the French. Mexicans remember the fifth of May with the same passion and patriotism Americans reserve for the Fourth of July.
Whether or not your community sponsors an official observance of the holiday, celebrate Mexico's remarkable victory on your own.
- Impress family members or party guests by preparing familiar favorites with new twists, such as kingfish enchiladas, shrimp fajitas, or even vegetarian fajitas.
- Serve alternatives to margaritas by mixing up some Salty Chihuahuas, a South-of-the-Border version of a Salty Dog.
- Sauces from Mexico do not live on red or green colors alone: mole sauces can be as varied and complex as marinara is for Italian cooks: no two are alike.
- As with most food and drink based on Mexican flavors, having plenty of lime and tequila on hand will make Cinco de Mayo muy bueno.