When is Cinco de Mayo and Why do Mexican Americans celebrate the Fifth of May with parades?

On Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth of May, Mexican Americans celebrate their ethnic heritage with parades and parties. You might think it is the anniversary of Mexico’s independence, but it isn’t. That day is September 16, known as Diez y Seis, which commemorates the beginning of Mexico’s war of independence from Spain in 1810.

It was on this day that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811), a priest in the village of Dolores, issued the Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”), a revolutionary call for land reform and racial equality. From that battle cry sprang a war that ended with Mexico winning independence in 1821.

Mexican Americans celebrate Diez y Seis, but Cinco de Mayo is an even more stirring occasion on which to remember their cultural background: something like St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish. It commemorates the day in 1862 when Mexico defeated a French occupation force at the battle of Puebla.

The French invaded Mexico in 1861 and were not fully driven out until 1867.