Cinco De Mayo simply means the "Fifth of May". I think that is why many Americans confuse it with Mexican Independence Day, after all, our Independence Day is the "Fourth of July". Cinco De Mayo however, really isn't Mexican Independence Day, that is actually celebrated on September 16th.
It is about a single military victory,and it was against the French, not the Spanish or Americans. It is really about debt when you come down to it.
It was a holiday originally only celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla. It is now mainly celebrated there to a small extent,but seems to be more popular in parts of the US.
That being said, Cinco De Mayo is really NOT celebrated in Mexico much at all. It would be like us celebrating "D Day" (June 6, 1944 when the American forces landed at Normandy Beach).We know it exists, and some know when it is , and what it is about, but there isn't a holiday celebration on that day.
After the Mexica -American War, and other skirmishes , Mexico was broke. There were negotiations, and extensions of debt owed to other countries from South America to Europe. The negotiations went well, except for one country, France. Money was owed to France and instead of negotiating as other countries did, France (Napoleon III) decided to invade Mexico.
The French army was twice as large as the Mexican one (the Mexicans had 4,000 fighting men, the French , 8000), and the French were much better equipped, yet the Mexicans managed to defeat the French in the Puebla area at Fort Guadalupe and Fort Loreto. The French army was stunned, it was the best in the world at the time, not having had a defeat in over 50 years. Quite a cause for celebration by the Mexicans!
The remembrance of that day was carried to the US and has become a bigger deal here than in Mexico! I guess it sells tequila drinks and makes Mexican restaurants a little extra profit on May 5.
So , enjoy a toast for Cinco De Mayo, but please don't call it Mexican Independence Day, and if things didn't go so well that day, it would be cinq de mai!
(C)2011 Dr. R M Reiter Wolf. May not be used, copied or reproduced without prior written permission.