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In the United States, May 5 is a much-celebrated date in a few key pockets of the country (and an excuse for various beer brands to sell more brew). Cities including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Antonio host Cinco de Mayo celebrations that can include everything from parades and live music to theater and food fairs.
In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is actually a bit more limited geographically in terms of celebrations. After all, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day (despite what some people think in the U.S.), but rather a commemoration of the Mexican army’s surprise victory against French forces during the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
As a result, the city of Puebla is the No. 1 spot in the nation to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. On May 5, 1862, Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza faced a daunting challenge: to lead his soldiers against French occupying troops. The Mexican army was outnumbered and under-equipped but won anyway.
Ever since that unlikely triumph, Cinco de Mayo has become an annual reason to celebrate Mexican pride and heritage, especially in the city of Puebla. To get the full story of Cinco de Mayo and the region’s rich history, visitors should join a city tour of Puebla’s historic sites. Visitors can explore the region’s pre-Hispanic and colonial heritage with a visit to Cholula, a nearby town known for its Great Pyramid, upon which Spanish colonialists built a church.
Another must-stop is Centro Civico Cultural Cinco de Mayo (Cinco de Mayo Civic Cultural Center), which is site of the annual Cinco de Mayo Fair as well as the Feria de Puebla. (Feria de Puebla takes place this year from April 6 to May 10, with a variety of cultural events, culinary offerings and crafts.) Centro Civico Cultural Cinco de Mayo is home to multiple museums that tell the natural and sociological history of Puebla and the historic events of Cinco de Mayo. Among the venues here are Museo del Fuerte de Loreto & Fuerte de Guadalupe (Fort Loreto and Forte Guadalupe Museum), which recounts the Cinco de Mayo military victory, and Museo Regional INAH (INAH Regional Museum), which is operated by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History). Divided into three sections, the regional museum covers Puebla’s history from pre-Hispanic through the 20th century, with a hall dedicated to the work of famed artist Diego Rivera and a massive 17th-century sculpture of St. Christopher.
The Amparo Museum, set in two colonial-era buildings in Puebla’s historic city center, is another important stop for visitors looking to understand the region’s fascinating history. The most eye-catching new venue in Puebla is, without a doubt, is Museo Internacional Barroco (Baroque International Museum). The museum is set in a strikingly modern architectural confection that provides a dramatic contrast to baroque art, literature, music and fashion housed inside.
All of these tourist stops will help equip visitors with plenty of background information to prepare them for the visually stunning central event that marks Cinco de Mayo: a giant civic/military parade that attracts more than 20,000 participants and spectators to the appropriately named Cinco de Mayo boulevard. A variety of groups march — including students and crisply dressed military — and the photo opportunities can seem endless. You’ll never confuse Cinco de Mayo with Mexico’s Independence Day again.
Mexico Tourism Board www.visitmexico.com
The State of Puebla, Mexico www.puebla.travel