Its economy shattered by the Mexican-American War, Mexico was hard put to pay its debts to European countries that had lent it money in the past. When Mexican President Benito Juarez suspended repayment on these debts, an invasion force made up of troops from three countries -- France, Spain, and Britain -- landed at Veracruz determined to collect what was owed them. While Spanish and British troops later withdrew after a compromise repayment agreement was reached, French troops pushed on toward Mexico City.
On May 5, 1862, French General Charles de Lorencez led 7,000 French troops into battle against a ragtag Mexican force of 4,000 led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza near the city of Puebla. Despite their superior numbers and training, the French troops were no match for their Mexican opponents, who excelled at guerrilla warfare. Cinco de Mayo marks the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla.
Looking for the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world? Look no further than Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles, where hundreds of thousands of people come out for food, music and crafts in a celebration of Hispanic heritage. But you know where Cinco de Mayo isn't a huge deal? Mexico. While Mexican students are taught in school about the Battle of Puebla and its role in Mexican history, Cinco de Mayo is actually an official holiday in only one of Mexico's 31 states -- Puebla, which was the site of the battle. Across the border in the United States, however, the holiday has come to be a celebration of Mexican ethnic identity and, as such, a day of pride for Mexican Americans, as well as all Americans who love margaritas, tequila, burritos, tacos, and guacamole.