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Medical student shares background on Cinco de Mayo

First-year Penn State College of Medicine medical student Maria Holstrom-Mercader is president of the Latino and Amigos Medical Student Association. She shared this information regarding Cinco de Mayo, observed each year on May 5.

Cinco de Mayo is a historical Mexican holiday that is celebrated in parts of Mexico as well as the United States. However, it is commonly mistaken as the day that Mexico claimed independence from Spain, which actually occurred Sept. 16, 1810. So why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?

The holiday marks the Mexican victory over France’s army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when the countries were at war with each other. The origins of the war date back to when Mexico owed a financial debt to France, Spain and Britain. With much negotiation, Spain and Britain withdrew their presence in Mexico.

However, the French used this as an opportunity to establish a second empire in the Western hemisphere. This attempt forcefully displaced the Mexican people into the north end of the country. The French, with about 6,000 troops, set a target to seize Puebla, which is in the central-eastern part of Mexico. Mexican President Benito Juárez decided to fight back by rounding up nearly 2,000 troops. Against all odds, the Mexican troops won the Battle of Puebla and France retreated.

Although this was not a turning point in the war for Mexico, it did represent a symbolic victory over one of its European oppressors. With this victory in the small town of Puebla, the resistance forces grew stronger. With help from U.S. forces at the end of the Civil War, Mexico was finally able to force France to permanently withdraw its soldiers in 1867.

Cinco de Mayo is commemorated mainly in the state of Puebla with parades, reenactments and other celebrations, since this is where the battle occurred. However, in the United States, it is a vastly popular holiday used to celebrate Mexican heritage, especially in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

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