‘Cinco de Mayo’: the tale of unlikely victory

The first people to colonise Mexico were a group of Spanish explorers who under order from the Spanish Crown, began colonising any newly discovered land for the Empire. During the colonial period, all Mexican rulers who governed Mexico came from the Spanish peninsula and were appointed by the King.

It is interesting to note however that there were no representatives from Mexico present in Spain. This is why Spanish is spoken as the mother tongue in Mexico today, and although Castilian and Mexican Spanish are classed as the same language, there are significant differences between the two; not only in pronunciation but also in vocabulary.

Even if you speak Castilian Spanish to a high level, if you have never come across Mexican Spanish then you will struggle to fully understand a conversation between two Mexicans.

Difference between Mexican Spanish and Castilian Spanish

Let’s have a look at things you should know if you want to impress the locals with your colloquial Mexican Spanish. Let’s take the two words ‘padre’ (father) and ‘madre’ (mother) for example: two popular words used in a number of Mexican slang phrases.

If you say ‘¡Qué padre!’ (literally “how father”), it means “that’s cool”, whilst if you say ‘me vale madre’ (literally “it’s worth a mother to me”), it means “I don’t care”.

Another interesting phenomenon is that Mexican Spanish seems to feature more loanwords from English than other Spanish dialects, for example “past time” isn’t a ‘pasatiempo’ but a hobby (pronounced with the English “h” sound). This phenomenon is due in large part to Mexico’s proximity to the United States. Another important difference is that in the European Spanish the pronoun ‘Vosotros’, is used to say “you” when referring to a group of people but in Mexican Spanish, it’s likely that you’ll hear ‘ustedes’.

The creation of Cinco de Mayo

However, now we’ll go back to the year 1861, when Mexico found itself in the midst of a severe economic crisis. In order to collect some of their outstanding debts, the French army invaded Mexico. The French army was much larger than the Mexicans, however, the home nation won a huge victory in ‘The Battle of Puebla’ on May 5, 1862.

The celebrations were short-lived, as the French army regrouped and continued; but the euphoria of this unlikely victory against overwhelming odds is remembered every year on the 5th May, during the celebrations of ‘Cinco de Mayo’.

Despite the fact that Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that remembers this historic victory, many people mistakenly believe that it is Mexican Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo is an optional national holiday in Mexico. Whether businesses close for the day varies from state to state. In Puebla, where the battle took place, the event is commemorated by a civic parade with over 20,000 participants and a battle re-enactment. However, for many Mexicans the best way to celebrate is by having their own party: a Mexican-themed fiesta for all generations.


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