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Aracely Saucillo (L) and Marylin Castillo perform with Mexica Ballet Folclorico performs during Cinco De Mayo festivities in downtown Los Angeles in 2011. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo is marketed in the U.S. as a fun holiday for getting drunk and eating tacos. But its origins are linked to California Latinos who saw a battle in Mexico in 1862 as a victory for abolition during the Civil War.

Why it matters: Protests around the death of George Floyd, which brought Latino and Black advocates together over the past year, have prompted a re-examination of this lesser-known piece of U.S. history.

  • Listen: I join Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano on his new podcast, "The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times," this week to talk about it.

Details: Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla and the victory of Mexico's ragtag army, made up largely of Indigenous soldiers, against the better equipped and trained French forces of Napoleon III.

  • Spanish-language newspapers at the time showed Latinos in California were worried about Napoleon III's interests in helping the Confederacy, and they saw the win as a victory against slavery.
  • The diverse coalition of Latinos from Mexico, Central America and South America had been brought to California because of the Gold Rush and were outspoken anti-slavery advocates.
  • David Hayes-Bautista, author of El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition, said for years Latinos celebrated the holiday with parades of people dressed in Civil War uniforms and gave speeches about how the Battle of Puebla was part of a larger struggle for abolition.

Between the lines: The Mexican Revolution in the 1910s sparked a new wave of migration to the U.S., and Cinco de Mayo's abolitionist connections faded.

  • Mexican Americans used the holiday as a David v. Goliath story of Indigenous people beating a European force as inspiration for fighting for civil rights.
  • By the 1980s, corporations and beer companies had co-opted the day as a way to reach the growing U.S. Hispanic market.
  • Boxing promoters also used the weekend near Cinco de Mayo to host big fights featuring popular Latino boxers of the moment.

Don't forget: Cinco de Mayo isn't Mexican Independence Day. That's the 16th of September.

Go deeper

May 5, 2021 - Podcasts

Reopening Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order suspending all COVID-19 restrictions in the Sunshine State, which includes preventing local governments from imposing their own restrictions. Less than 30% of Florida's population is fully vaccinated so far.

  • Plus, holding companies accountable on racial justice.
  • And, the real history of Cinco de Mayo.
Updated 3 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.

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