Cinco de Mayo is, indeed, a special day in México. It’s a day of celebration. But it’s not the celebration of independence. Actually, México, commemorates Fifth of May, because in 1862 the Mexican army, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza, defeated the French army in the current city of Puebla de Zaragoza also known as Puebla de los Ángeles. That was the first time a Mexican army defeated a foreign army.
In 1860´s decade, México was economically damaged, socially fractured and had internal severe political issues. This after half century of internal issues, conflicts and constant civil wars. The government under president Benito Juárez was not able to face payment commitments to foreign countries such as France, United Stated, England and Spain. Due to this delicate situation, President Juárez decreed a two year extension to pay the foreign debt to European countries.
In 1861, England, Spain and France subscribed to the London Convention and promised to send soldiers to México to claim their rights as creditors for a debt that amounted 80 million pesos. So Napoleon III, ruler of France at the moment, decided to invade México to establish a monarchy favorable to Europe, stock up raw materials and claim the debt. Future plans to expand their imperialism to the United States were also in effect. To this end Napoleon had to dissolve Mexican government established by President Juárez
In April 1862 the French army invaded México and undertook the military campaign towards the center of the Republic. After several attacks, on May 5th the battle on the hill of Loreto, at which was a chapel equipped as a fort to defend the city of Puebla, took place. General Ignacio Zaragoza, commanding almost 2000 soldiers and 2,700 peasants, was the hero of the battle defeating the French army.
Mexican victory lasted not very long. A year later French army defeated Mexican army and took México City. Emperor Maximilian was installed and ruled for 3 years. Upon the conclusion of the American Civil War and facing a persistent Mexican guerrilla, externals threats to France and the prospect of a serious scrap with the United States, French emperor retreated in 1866. Was recaptured in México City along with Mexican generals and all were executed in El Cerro de las Campanas in the city of Querétaro.
As a funny fact about Fifth of May is that it is more popularly celebrated in the United States than in México. The day has become associated with the celebration of the Mexican-American culture. Today Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl. In Mexico, the commemoration of the battle continues to be mostly ceremonial, such as through military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla marks the event with an arts festival, a festival of local cuisine, and re-enactments of the battle.