Cinco de Mayo - May 5After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, a devastated Mexico found itself owing other countries vast sums of money. In 1861, Mexican president Benito Juarez announced that Mexico would not pay its debts to other nations for two years. England, Spain and France then invaded the country to get payment. The Spanish and English eventually left, but Napoleon III of France left his troops in Mexico in order create a French empire in the beleaguered country. In preparing to take over the country, the powerful French army advanced from Vera Cruz toward Mexico City, assuming that the Mexicans would give up without a fight. But on May 5, 1862, in the fortified city of Puebla, a poorly equipped army of 5,000 Mexicans defeated the overconfident French troops. Although this did not end the French occupation, the victory came to symbolize the Mexican people's determination to remain free from foreign control.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated across the United States with parades, music, Mexican food, arts and crafts, and traditional and modern dancing. Many cities and towns have annual festivals to commemorate the day, which focus more on Mexican culture and pride in heritage than on the battle against the French.