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Cinco de Mayo: The history behind the holiday

The day is often referred to as Mexico's Independence Day, but that holiday actually falls in September. So, what is Cinco de Mayo?

DENVER — Cinco de Mayo is Thursday, and for many Americans, that means enjoying Mexican food... and probably a few margaritas.

But Cinco de Mayo, which translates to May 5, is probably one of the most misunderstood Mexican holidays. 

The day is often referred to as Mexico's Independence Day, but that holiday actually falls in September. So, what is Cinco de Mayo? Strictly speaking, it is still important to Mexico's independence.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over the French forces of Napoleon III on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla.

Mexico had troubles paying back war debts to European countries, and France had come to Mexico to collect that debt.

Today, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an American holiday than a Mexican one. It's been big in the United States since Mexican Americans raised awareness for it in the 1960s. Now, it represents pride for the culture and heritage.

But most non-Mexican Americans have "no idea" about the day's history, said Carlos Tortolero, president of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.

"If you went to any bar tonight and said, 'What's this day about?', they would be clueless, and you can't blame the alcohol consumption either," Tortolero told USA TODAY Network.

For Tortolero, Cinco de Mayo is a reminder of how many times Mexico has been invaded by other countries.

"This one day, Mexico won the battle," he said.

RELATED: Greeley museum launches 'The Bracero Program' exhibit

RELATED: 32nd annual Cinco de Mayo Festival returns to Denver in 2022

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