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Deciphering Cinco de Mayo

Many people confuse Cinco de Mayo's true significance with the Mexican Revolution or Mexico's Independence Day, so Patch hit the streets asking locals what they believe to be the holiday's true meaning.

It's Cinco de Mayo today, the annual holiday commemorating the Mexican Army's defeat over French forces during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It's also a holiday that's often confused for Mexico's Independence Day—September 16, 1810—or the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, while others see it as a holiday created purely for partying.

With all these misconceptions floating around, Patch decided to hit the streets to find out what locals believe to be the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, and here's what they had to say:

“Cinco de Mayo is like, celebrating the independence of Mexico and just how we stood up and like made a name for ourselves cause we just wanted liberty,” Watsonville High student Oscar Ramirez, 17, said.

High school students José Raygoza and Dyani Jacobo said Cinco de Mayo signifies the start of the Mexican Revolution.

“Its a Mexican revolution [and] I'm pretty sure Zapata was in it,” said Raygoza, 17. “We fought the French, I guess, and we lost... no we won the war.”

“[It's celebrating] the revolution against the French and I think we lost it—I don't think we won it,” Pajaro Valley High student Jacobo, 16, said.  “No we won it, otherwise we'd be speaking French right now," Raygoza argued.

Ricardo Ballardo also said he believes that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican Revolution.

“I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think it was the Emilio (Emiliano) Zapata war where Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata existed back then,” Ballardo, 26, of Watsonville said. “The Mexican Revolution won the war and that's what they're celebrating basically, so everybody celebrates, makes these folkloric dances and everything and all the Spanish and Mexicans get together and make a party out of it.”

John Deanda, says he thinks of Cinco de Mayo from a Mexican-pride standpoint.

“[Cinco de Mayo is about] Mexican pride, the Mexican flag and the American flag, and just celebrates the Mexican pride pretty much and is just a party for all the Mexicans,” Deanda, 24, of Watsonville said.

Scott Gurin, 22, of Watsonville said people are more concerned with celebrating Cinco de Mayo than they are with understanding its history.

“I thought it was Mexican Independence, but I guess I was wrong and I think it's actually a reason to celebrate and get drunk and that's the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo,” Gurin said. “I think the history got lost in the partying and nobody knows what the true meaning is anymore, so why not just celebrate that?”

Patch got a little closer to the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo with Watsonville resident Bob Larsen, who said the holiday signifies Mexico's independence from France—the country that was attempting to assume control of Mexico in 1862, but was defeated during the Battle of Puebla.

“I think the real Independence Day is in September—independence from Spain—and I could be wrong but I think Cinco de Mayo was a smaller Independence day, celebrating their Independence from France,” Larson, 60, said.

Although the majority of interviewees seemed to be unfamiliar with the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, Patch found one student who hit it spot-on.

“Cinco de Mayo celebrates when we beat the French, also known as La Batalla de Puebla,” said Anyssa Luna, 16, of Pajaro Valley High.

For Cinco de Mayo events and hangouts, check out our .

Sheldon Perry May 05, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Respecing heritage is fine, but loyalty to the country you reside in (and benefit from) is much more important. That was my point. Last year there was a high school in California where a bunch of Mexican-(American?) kids had a fit that some other students had the "nerve" to wear American flag themed t-shirts to school. The kids with the American flag shirts were actually sent home. I've yet to see a Irish-American have a fit upon seeing an American flag displyed on St. Patricks' Day. Promoting diversity to the level you want also promotes division, something this country doesn't need. Remember, we are the United States, not the Diversified States.
Corinne Speckert May 05, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Keep in mind that each interviewee was asked about a specific topic, with Cinco de Mayo being that topic for this article. So, it really wouldn't have been appropriate for them to comment on their American patriotism - we can save that for July 4th. Plus, these interviewees answering the specific question asked to them just makes them good interviewees - they gave a relevant response that didn't stray from the topic. Which is why their answers don't reflect their loyalty to this country, as that would be off the topic and nonsensical in this context. And the "United States" often seems synonymous with "diversified states". The entire West Coast is rich with an array of mixed cultures, as is the East and Southern areas of this country. We have large Asian, Indian, Pacific Islander and Italian populations, plus more than I can even think of off the top of my head. Our country has become a huge melting pot and to say "remember, we are the United State's, not the diversified states," seems to be a primitive way of thinking. Division is the subsequent effect of those not supporting diversity. So, lets appreciate Americans for what we are: diverse, each and every one of us.
Sheldon Perry May 05, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Well, it used to be that people came to this country and worked hard to fit in and become just Americans. People like yourself have sadly embraced the idea maintaining difference is somehow a better thing. Common language and culture is what unites, and that is what defines a nation. Balkinization is not something to strive for. Just look at Canada and all the trouble they have had with the French population and their ongoing threats to secede. Being homogeneous has been so demonized in the last 20 years and yet look at a nation like Japan. One of the highest standards of living in the world and the greatest longevity of any people. Also, compare the difference in their reaction to a disaster. The recent tidal wave vs. Katrina. There is much to be admired about them. You really missed the greater point I was making, and is the question of loyalties. I don't know what you ancestry is, but I'm sure you don't identify with it first and identify with being American second. Sadly, a lot of immigrants do nowadays. They aren't even interested in learning English and that will create division. Also, I don't know how you came to the conclusion " the "United States" often seems synonymous with "diversified states"." The two things are opposites. These mix of cultures you're so proud of aren't really all that mixed either. Many immigrant groups tend to all stick together in small ethnic enclaves. Appreciate America for what the founders intended. A united people.
Cathy P. May 05, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Cinco de Mayo isn’t even a holiday with any significance to the USA, yet we are the only other country, other then Puebla, where the war happened, that celebrates it. The rest of Mexico doesn’t even celebrate it. It’s just another “drinking holiday” like St. Patrick’s Day and New Years. Like all “Hallmark Holidays,” Cinco de Mayo has only become popular in the US so that bars, restaurants, and alcohol companies can make a lot of money off of it. Instead of drinking on Cinco de Mayo, or driving around town with Mexican flags draped over the hood of your car, do something in the community to celebrate. How about learning the real meaning of the holiday; mentoring a child, volunteer to help someone learn English, or stand up for the Arizona immigration laws. We need to think of this day as less about getting drunk and more about doing something in our own community.
Gabriela Segovia-McGahan May 12, 2011 at 05:48 PM
My father is from El Salvador but I am still interested in the history of other nations and how it all relates to the U.S. The person who led the battle was an American citizen - Texan, in fact. Brief history here: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/05/06/good-question-what-happened-in-the-battle-that-commemorates-cinco-de-mayo/ U.S. -Mexico relations in the present: http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Straight-shooting-documentary-details-history-of-1376050.php

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