Cinco de Mayo

International Student & Scholar Services is pleased to partner with WHISK and students in the Nutrition, Food Science & Packaging program at SJSU. This blog was written by senior Nutrition students Charles Chang, Annie Chen, Joanna Chen, and Soo Jung Shin.

Are you interested in a Cinco de Mayo cooking demonstration? Join WHISK and SJSU Faculty in Residence on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 7:00 PM (PT) and learn how to make watermelon agua fresca, aguachile, and a vegan ceviche! Click here to join.

History: What is Cinco De Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo means fifth of May in Spanish language, literally. This day is celebrated annually in the United States. One popular misconception is that

Cinco de Mayo Celebration Photo – Kevork Djansezian/AP

this holiday is Mexican Independence Day; however, it is not! The Mexican Independence day is on September 10, 1810. Cinco De Mayo observes and celebrates the victory of the Mexican army over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. There are differences as to how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in US and in Mexico. Although this is a small holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States across the nation, with celebrations and parades in places with large populations of people of Mexican heritage. So, what happened at the city of Puebla, Mexico?

The Battle of Puebla

Battle of Puebla Photo – Publisher: Encyclopedia Britannica

Internal conflicts caused a financial burden in Mexico during the mid-1800s. As a result, president Benito Juárez was forced to rely on the European countries (France, Britain, and Spain) for financial support, and eventually landed in financial debt. While demanding repayment of these loans, Britain and Spain successfully negotiated with Mexico. France, however, wanted to take advantage of the chance to make an empire out of Mexican territories. In 1861, Napoleon III led French naval forces to storm Veracruz, Mexico. President Juárez and the Mexican government were forced to retreat. On May 5th, 1862, President Juárez gathered 2,000 men to lead an assault on 6,000 French troops in the state of Puebla. Although the Mexican troops were significantly outnumbered, and lacked adequate supplies, the Mexican troops ended up winning this battle. This victory served as an important reminder of national strength for the Mexican government and the resistance movement.

In Mexico

Cinco de Mayo is a historical moment of victory and national unity for Mexican government over their French oppressors. Each region has its own way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The celebration is highly esteemed in the city of Puebla, Mexico where the battle took place in past. People traditionally celebrate Cinco de Mayo with parades, speeches, and reenactments of the 1862 military battle between Mexico and the French to commemorate the victory. An annual Cinco de Mayo parade takes place as thousands of locals and tourists gather in Puebla, Mexico. Typically, the participants of the parade will dress up as French and Mexican soldiers, and reenact the battle between Mexican and French troops. The reenactment will end with Mexican soldiers winning and mariachi music and dance takes place shortly.

Here are 3 popular foods consumed on Cinco De Mayo in Mexico:

Mole Poblano

Image Credit: Joshua Bousel

Mole poblano is a traditional dish consumed in Puebla on Cinco de Mayo. The dish originated in the 16th century and was created by nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla upon a sudden visit from the archbishop. The nuns were inspired to grind and roast multiple ingredients together, involving various types of chillies, spices, bread, nuts, and chocolate. The new creation by the nuns satisfied the archbishop, which became known and in turn remained a national dish consumed on holidays such as Cinco de Mayo. Mole poblano is served with a roasted meat, with thick and dark-colored sauce made from chilli peppers and a blend of various spices poured over meat. The sauce is rich and heavy, with a perfect balance of sweet and spicy! 


Chalupas is a popular fast food served on Cinco de Mayo, which is made by using a thick fried tortilla topped with shredded

Image Credit: @Grace

meat, queso fresco cheese, salsa, onion and cilantro, similar to what is expected on tacos. The name Chalupa originated from baskets during Colonial times. During Colonial times, Spanish settlers spent the majority of their time washing clothes in the Almoloya River. Baskets, called Chalupas that were made out of wood, were used to carry the clothes to this river. Washing clothes was a time consuming activity, and Spanish settlers were able to prepare a quick Chalupa dinner that resembled the function of this laundry basket- thus the name of this dish. Chalupas continue to be a well loved traditional food for Cinco de Mayo! 

Chiles en Nogada

Image Credit:

Chiles en Nogada is a colorful and patriotic dish of Mexico that incorporates the colors of the Mexican flag: red, green, and white. Every region has its own unique variation. Typically, a roasted pepper is filled with finely chopped meat, vegetables and candied fruit that has been cooked in a tomato-based sauce. Then, the pepper is topped with a white creamy sauce made from walnuts, sugar and cream in a finely blended form, and later decorated with parsley and hand-picked pomegranate seeds. Chiles en Nogada was created for Mexico’s first emperor after Mexico’s independence and often appears at the celebrations of Mexican independence.

In United States

As many Mexican immigrants made their way to America, Cinco de Mayo has become a day that honors and celebrates the people of Mexican heritage in the United States. The first celebration of Cinco de Mayo was held in the year of 1863 in Los Angeles, California, and is still one of the largest celebrations in the US. By the 1930’s, Cinco de Mayo became a day to affirm people of Mexican heritage and raise cultural familiarity. Mexican-American foods like tacos are commonly eaten on this day along with alcoholic beverages. Not only that, California Avocado Commission reports that around 81 million pounds of avocados are consumed by Americans on Cinco de Mayo annually. 

Across America, for many Mexican Americans who have faced oppression and discrimination as they have settled in the United States, the holiday is a time to take pride in their heritage and cultural identity. Especially in today’s political environment, it’s a time we can all step back and learn more about the significance of this particular holiday – enjoy some Mexican foods and reach out to our friends who come from Mexico and learn about and acknowledge their journey to be here with us.

Check out SJSU student organization WHISK on Instagram at @WHISK_SJSU for recipes and ideas to celebrate the holiday.


  1. Cinco de Mayo. (2009, Oct 23). Cinco de Mayo. History.
  2. Esposito, Shaylyn. (2013, May 3). What to Really Eat on Cinco de Mayo. Smithsonian Magazine. 
  3. Lovgren, Stefan. “Cinco De Mayo History: From Bloodshed to Beer Fest.” History, National Geographic, 10 Feb. 2021, 
  4. Mexican History. (2021, Mar 5). Cinco de Mayo. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  5. Moné, B. (2019, April 30). 10 ways Cinco de Mayo is celebrated differently in the US and Mexico. Insider.

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