Cinco de Mayo History: Cocktail Chatter Cheat Sheet

Suzanne Murray

cinco de mayo celebration
Flickr photo by Paul Lowry
Here's everything you need to know to sound like an expert on the history of Cinco de Mayo -- while you're sipping on margaritas with friends.

What it is: Cinco de Mayo celebrates the anniversary of Mexico's 1862 victory over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla. At that time, the French Army was considered the greatest military force in the world.

Terms to Know:

Cinco de Mayo -- This literally means 5th of May in Spanish. This is the day the Battle of Puebla took place.

Puebla -- The city where the battle took place; it's about 100 miles from Mexico City.

Benito Juarez -- The first indigenous national to serve as president of Mexico. He had suspended debts owed to France because his country was bankrupt, earning the ire of Napoleon III, the ruler of France.

General Ignacio Zaragoza -- The Texas-born Mexican who was ordered to defend Juarez with a force of 4,000 troops, many of whom were agricultural workers armed with antiquated rifles and machetes. He had no experience in military tactics but was a veteran in guerrilla warfare.

Charles Laurencez -- The French general who led 6,000 well-trained and armed soldiers in the Battle of Puebla. He ordered them to attack through the middle of Zaragoza's strongest position, but the Mexican Army stood its ground. The French fled to Orizaba, where they were attacked again, and then fled to the coast.

Phrases to drop:

"Feliz Cinco de Mayo!" (That's how you say "Happy Cinco de Mayo" in Spanish.)

"Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That's celebrated on September 16."

"Did you know Cinco de Mayo isn't really even celebrated in Mexico? It's more of a Mexican-American holiday, much bigger in America."

"This year on Cinco de Mayo, everyone has immigration on their minds. Wonder how the holiday is going over in Arizona?"

"A margarita on the rocks with salt, and pass the guacamole, please!"

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