Cinco de Mayo? 16 de Septiembre? What Are We Celebrating?


Cinco de Mayo is coming up! Let’s celebrate! Bring out your colorful embroidered flower dresses and rebozos. Don’t forget the margaritas and tequila shots. Let’s celebrate the Mexican revolution. Or, wait, is it Mexican independence?

I’m 100 percent guilty of grouping Cinco de Mayo and 16 de Septiembre together. I’m also guilty of Googling and never retaining facts. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never celebrated Cinco de Mayo until I moved out of El Paso. I celebrated in Florida in full Mexican attire. I had never been so proud to be a Mexican. Heck yeah! I’m Mexican-American so it’s not appropriation even if I have no idea what we’re celebrating, right?

For my sake and for the sake of anyone who has ever been curious, I’ve taken the time to research both. I’ve provided a brief history lesson below. Now we’ll be able to explain why we need a girl’s night with plenty of margaritas!

Cinco de Mayo or 16 de Septiembre? Which one's Mexican Independence Day?Cinco De Mayo

Cinco de Mayo dates back to 1862. The French army was headed towards Mexico City. They were directed to demand payment from Mexico. While there, Napoleon the third was planning to conquer the land. His plan was to establish a second Mexican empire.

Remember the Alamo? How about the Battle of Puebla?

The Mexican army, however, had other plans for them. The French soldiers were only able to go as far as Puebla. In Puebla, they were attacked by Mexican soldiers. Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza and his army prevented the French from moving forward. Based on an article from, 500 French soldiers died. The battle lasted from morning to evening, and Mexico only suffered the deaths of 100 soldiers.

Mexico won the battle but not the war.

The battle in Puebla was only the first of two battles that took place there. The second battle was actually won by the French. Napoleon the third ultimately got his wish of a second Mexican empire. In 1864 Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian was named Emperor of Mexico. It only lasted a couple of years though. Due to Mexican resistance and lack of support from the U.S., Napoleon ordered a French withdrawal in 1867.

Why do we celebrate such a small battle?

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not really celebrated. More Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo than Mexicans. Cinco de Mayo is more popular in America than in Mexico because it has been commercialized by beer companies for years.  The battle is recognized in Mexico because of the symbolism of resistance during the French takeover.

So, next time you celebrate Cinco de Mayo and everyone cheers, you should say something like, “to Ignacio Zaragoza,” or “to the victory in Puebla!” You’ll either get made fun of all night or sound like the smartest person in the room!

16 de Septiembre

16 de Septiembre dates all the way back to 1810. This one’s pretty straightforward. Mexicans celebrate their independence from Spain, and it’s a BIG DEAL! However, this is not exactly when Mexico’s independence took place.

El Grito de Dolores

On September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo called on Mexican citizens to fight for their independence. In the town of Dolores, Father Hidalgo gave a passionate speech that ended with a battle cry now known as “El Grito de Dolores.” In his speech, he called on local citizens to follow him into battle against the Spanish. He had many who followed and so began the first push for independence in Mexico.

In 1811 Hidalgo and his army of local citizens were defeated. Father Hidalgo was ultimately killed. His speech and cry, however, are re-enacted every year. “El Grito” marks the start of Mexican Independence Day. Every year on September 15 at 11 p.m., the Mexican president stands on his balcony and performs “El Grito de Dolores.” He also recites what Father Hidalgo was believed to have said on that fateful day in 1810.

Mexico gains independence.

Spain conquered Mexico back in 1512. Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes and his army overturned the Aztec empire and gained control. Mexicans endured over three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. When the French invasion of Spain occurred in 1808, it fueled the fire for a Mexican revolution. Father Hidalgo was the father of the revolution, but there were many who led during the decade-long war.

The war that began in 1810 by Father Hidalgo ended in 1821 under Agustin de Iturbe’s leadership. The Treaty of Cordoba was established. His rule only lasted 18 months, however, due to his lavish spending. After Iturbe’s rule, Mexico was established as the first Mexican Republic.

To Cinco de Mayo and 16 de Septiembre!

Like Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” Cheers to more meaningful celebrations in the future, to our rich history, and to our amazing border community with a mix of nationalities! Arriba! Abajo! Al centro, y pa dentro! Viva Mexico!

Originally published May 2022.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of El Paso Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.


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