Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. It is not, as many in the United States believe, Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16th.
In 1861, after several years of war, the Mexican government was nearly bankrupt. Mexican President Benito Juarez was forced to issue a two-year moratorium on all foreign debt payments. In response, France sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement and attempt to establish an empire in Mexico that would favor French interests.
Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, although all schools are closed to honor the victory at the “Battle of Puebla Day”. In California and the rest of the United States, Cinco de Mayo has been continuously celebrated since 1863.