Cinco de Mayo in Mérida, thanks to the English Library

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
French troops led by Eduardo Gonzalez Arevalo invade the territory of Tabasco in 1863. Colored engraving photographed by Prisma / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Happy Cinco de Mayo,” said my well-read, highly educated friend back in the States. “I suppose the town will be going all-out for Independence Day.”

I had to let him down easily. Cinco de Mayo is a bigger “thing” where he is, where bars, restaurants, and even the nursing home where my friend lives mark the occasion with nachos and dip.

And it’s not Independence Day unless you’re in Puebla, in which case you’re kind of half-right.

Actually, not even then.

Cinco de Mayo isn’t forgotten at the Mérida English Library.

MEL to the rescue

Knowing we might miss Cinco de Mayo the way we celebrated it in the past, the Mérida English Library, bless their hearts, is serving nachos platters today. They acknowledge it’s not really a big celebration across town.

“The way we see it, it’s a great opportunity to gather, celebrate, and learn about Mexican history and culture,” reads the invitation.

MEL’s snack sale involves delicious nachos with carne asada in a combo: nachos and refilled fresh flavored water with an ice cream cone for 100 pesos. A good deal, actually. It’s from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today on the MEL patio. There will be music and Lotería, as well.

But mainly, it’s just another day in paradise here in Mérida. The city hasn’t installed special decorations. Nobody gets the day off. The banks are open.

What is Cinco de Mayo, really?

Papel picado banners strung around the Plaza del Pueblo de Los Angeles near Olvera Street for Cinco de Mayo. Photo: Getty / Allison Achauer

Cinco de Mayo may be Cinco de Drinko to partiers over the border, but that’s because the beer companies made it so starting in the 1980s.

It’s widely assumed to be Mexican Independence Day, when the country broke free of Spanish rule, but that began more than 50 years earlier. Cinco de Mayo has to do with the French, when Emperor Napoleon III wanted to claim Mexico.

Today is the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, an against-all-odds Mexican military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III. The war continued, but the win was a morale boost locally. Cinco de Mayo today is celebrated in Puebla with parades, speeches, and battle reenactments. Elsewhere in Mexico, not so much.

But in the States, there’s a club in Maryland where you can ride a mechanical bull with your $1 margarita. There are block parties and maybe an extension of Taco Tuesday for office workers. Across the United States, beer sales will be at the level of a Super Bowl Sunday.

But few in the U.S. will know why.

Read more: Good reasons to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on both sides of the border

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