The real history behind Cinco de Mayo

TRI-CITIES, Wash. - Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo isn't about celebrating Mexican Independence Day, but a day that celebrates when Mexico’s army defeated the bigger and more powerful French army in the Battle of Puebla. 

In 1862, France, Spain and Britain tried to force Mexico into paying debts it owed the European countries. While Spain and Britain ceded, France brought in more of their soldiers in an effort to make Mexico part of French territory.

"France at the time under Napoleon III was really trying to colonize Mexico," said Martin Valadez, former Mexican American studies Professor and Director of Heritage University Tri-Cities.

Mexican president at the time, Zapotec indigenous lawyer Benito Juarez, rounded up 2,000 Mexican men to fight against nearly 6,000 Frenchmen, ultimately defeating the powerful French army.

"This inspired years of continued resistance against European colonization," said Valadez.

"I don't want to tell people how to celebrate," continued Valadez, "But I think people should use Cinco de Mayo not necessarily as just a day to party but to learn more about Mexican history, Mexican culture and Mexican contributions to the U.S. Contributions that are significant to the country especially the west and Southwest. Some of the oldest cities in the U.S. were Spanish-speaking for some time."