Back in 1862, a small Mexican force defeated the much larger French army at the Battle of Puebla in central Mexico. It was an important moral victory, even if it didn’t succeed in getting the French to leave the country, but Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) isn’t the same as Mexico’s Independence Day. That celebration is held in September and marks the beginning of the 1810 War of Independence.
In the United States, however, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican-American culture. The event started in California but has now spread to communities across the country who come together for special events, parades and concerts. It’s a day to eat Mexican food, drink Mexican beer, and toast the contributions our neighbors to the south have made to American culture and heritage.
Here are five of the best places in the United States to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
- San Diego, California
About a quarter of San Diego’s population hails originally from Mexico and the city always does a great job of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Festivities usually spread over the closest weekend to May 5th and bars in the city go all-out with special tequila-based drinks. There’s family-friendly dancing and music in Balboa park with special activities for the kids. This is where you want to go for authentic Mexican handicrafts, tasting-flights of mezcal and some of the best fish tacos this side of the border.
- Denver, Colorado
The biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the country is held in Denver, outstripping Los Angeles as the place to be on May 5th. Almost half-a-million people now converge on the city to listen to music in Civic Center Park, check out the displays and attend the great Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off. There’s a parade on Saturday morning and Mexican-themed activities all weekend long.
- San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio has over 800,000 Hispanic residents and they make up over 60% of the city’s population. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the town puts on a great show every Cinco de Mayo. Market Square becomes the center-point for a weekend that’s jam-packed with concerts, street food, dancing and special exhibits. Businesses from golf courses to cooking schools offer Mexican-themed events and when the sun goes down, you can sip custom-made tequila drinks in just about every city bar.
- New York City, New York
The Cinco de Mayo Parade in New York City has been held since 2007 and runs from 106th Street & Central Park to 97th Street. Watching it unfurl is a great way to discover the incredible diversity of identities, traditions and languages that make up the fabric of Mexico’s cultural heritage. When you’re done dancing in the streets, you’ll find no shortage of bars and restaurants offering Mexican fare to the thirsty crowds.
- St. Paul, Minnesota
West Side St. Paul has developed a well-earned reputation as a great place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, even though the Twin Cities are over 2,000 miles from Puebla. Activities center on Cesar Chavez street and feature a parade, a fun-run that begins and ends at a brewery, and non-stop music and dancing on three centrally located stages.
No matter where you find yourself on the 5th of May, take a moment to raise a glass to our southern neighbors and honor the contribution they’ve made to American culture. And just like the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone gets to be a little Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.