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Understanding Cinco de Mayo

(It’s not Mexican Independence Day)

by Katie Arvia

LANSING, Ill. (April 27, 2018) – Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory at the Battle of Puebla. The battle, fought against the French Empire, was an unlikely win for Mexico. On May 5, 1862, General Ignacio Zaragoza led his troops into battle.

This heroic victory is not what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Cinco de Mayo though.

In America, Cinco de Mayo is commonly mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, which is observed on September 16 and is the most important national holiday in Mexico. This day marks Mexico’s independence from Spain.

In fact, over time, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have become more significant in the United States than in Mexico. Typically, the holiday is celebrated with parades, music, dancing, and food. However, there are differing opinions among Lansing residents regarding the holiday.

“In my opinion, Cinco de Mayo is an American holiday that culturally appropriates Mexican heritage,” said Michael Martinez, a long-time Lansing resident. “I think the biggest issue I observe is when people use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink and eat traditional Mexican food in an exaggerated way. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I think people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday.”

Martinez said he does not celebrate Cinco de Mayo and will often stay home unless he has been invited out to dinner or other festivities. He likened American celebrations of Cinco de Mayo to the Fourth of July, wherein revelries often include stereotypical American food such as hot dogs or hamburgers and extravagant fireworks displays. He pointed out the fact that sometimes the true meaning of Independence Day is lost due to celebrations.

“I have mixed feelings about Cinco de Mayo,” said Isabel Garcia, who grew up in Lansing. “I’m not saying it’s not an important part of history, because it is. It’s just that I usually hear the misconception that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day [and that] gets me on edge because it’s not.”

Garcia also said she does nothing special to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Despite the general misconceptions surrounding Cinco de Mayo, both Martinez and Garcia agree that it is okay to celebrate, if it is for the right reasons.

“I do appreciate when [people] take the time to learn about our culture but to not stereotype it and be offensive in any way,” Garcia said. “There’s a right and wrong way to celebrate other cultures and you have to take the time to know the difference and not to be offensive.”

“At the end of the day, it does bring me a sense of gratitude when I see my friends celebrate,” Martinez added. “Reiterating the meaning [of Cinco de Mayo] is important, but sometimes all you need is an ice-cold margarita and a toast to good times.”


Katie Arvia
Katie Arvia
Katie is a lifelong Lansing native who currently works full-time in marketing while also freelance reporting for The Lansing Journal. In 2015, she graduated with high honors from Saint Xavier University in Chicago with a BA in English, and she plans to pursue a Master's degree in the near future. Her favorite Lansing Journal assignments include coverage of TF South High School's walkout ("Demonstrating the possibilities") and her St. Patrick's Day interview with her grandma ("St. Patrick's Day traditions: reflections of an Irish granddaughter").


  1. Americans have good reason to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, even though they do not realize it. Had the French won the battle at Puebla, they were poised to assist the Confederacy, which undoubtedly would have turned the tables in the American Civil War.
    To say that Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo culturally appropriates Mexican Heritage is like saying the United States screwed up European history on D-Day. However, we certainly should know why we have reason to celebrate it.

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