El Cinco de Mayo: An American Holiday Born During The Civil War

May 5, 2023

Every year on May 5th, we call attention to the historical context of El Cinco de Mayo as a commemoration rooted in supporting freedom and democracy during the American Civil War.

Below, learn more about the story of El Cinco de Mayo, Juntas Patrióticas, and how this history is being taught at a middle school in Northglenn, Colorado.

Image: Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones


Why El Cinco de Mayo is an American Holiday


An Unlikely Victory in Mexico Delays Potential Confederate Ally

The one-day Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 prevented French Confederate sympathizer, Napoleon III, from advancing to Mexico City.

General Ignacio Zaragoza and his troop of 2,000 Mexicans protected Puebla against a better-equipped French force, which had to retreat and delay establishing a base south of the U.S. border.

Image (Left): General Ignacio Zaragoza. Museum of Mexican History. Image (Right): Fiesta Colorado

Why El Cinco de Mayo Inspired Mexican-Americans to Organize


The news of the Mexican army’s victory inspired California Mexicans to organize and celebrate a day that was symbolic of their values of freedom and democracy. It was three and a half decades earlier when Mexico outlawed slavery, abolished their caste system, and established citizenship for non-whites.

Following their celebration, they also organized and created Juntas Patrióticas—an organization focused on financially and politically supporting the Union and Mexico’s independence from elitist European rule.

The organization had 129 locations along the American West with at least 14,000 members accounted for through historical records.


Knowing Our Heritage of Leadership:

A New Generation of Leaders Brings the History of El Cinco de Mayo to Their Peers


This historic legacy of organizing and telling the story of Mexican Americans’ commitment to equality is being carried forward by Teresa Barajas, an Assistant Principal and LLI graduate.

In 2015, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, leading scholar on the history of El Cinco de Mayo, came to the LLI Fellowship to share his research. His message and evidence resonated with Barajas, who collaborated with fellow LLI Cohort 4 members to share the research with students in her middle school community.

“I wanted to share the story with others. As a middle school Assistant Principal, I was able to do that with my students. It really warmed my heart to see them excited about their history. Most importantly, I loved seeing their pride while learning and celebrating.”

Teresa (Left) with the Mariposa Group, a cohort of 8th-grade leaders who made El Cinco de Mayo a school-wide celebration of history and culture


In 2017, the Mariposa Group, a leadership cohort of 8th-grade girls, was inspired to bring this history to their 789 classmates at Northglenn Middle School. They collaborated with their social studies teachers, classmates, cafeteria staff, and school leadership to celebrate El Cinco De Mayo with history, food, and music shared with everyone.

This celebration is now an ongoing, annual tradition at the middle school and has garnered the attention of leadership across the district.

Barajas was able to inspire and develop a future generation of leaders who lean into rather than hide from their proud history and heritage.


This is the ripple effect of knowing our history.



Learn more about El Cinco de Mayo

David Hayes Bautista on the History of Cinco de Mayo

Online Borderlands Talk: Cinco de Mayo, an American Tradition, feat. Dr. David Hayes-Bautista