More than Margaritas: A History of Cinco De Mayo

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Getty Images / Jewel Samad

Dressed up in Mexican outfits, performers wait to perform during a Cinco de Mayo reception in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2010

Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not Mexican Independence Day. (via TIME Photos)

Cinco De Mayo is the holiday of tequila and tex-mex, shares a genre with Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s day and has become hugely popular throughout the United States. But how many people actually know the history behind this springtime celebration?

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Cinco De Mayo marks the 1862 battle of Puebla, during which Mexican troops defeated the French army in an underdog victory regarded as a symbol of national unity. Mexico celebrates Independence Day on September 16, but Cinco De Mayo is only observed regionally.

Mexican-Americans in southwestern states like New Mexico and California are thought to have brought the holiday north of the border. Since then, it has become hugely commercialized and bars have reaped the benefits. It’s not so much a hallmark holiday as an alcohol business holiday — shown in part by the launch of Bud Light Lime on May 5, 2008.

Head to TIME’s photo gallery to learn more about a “Mexican holiday with an anti-imperialist message that’s nonetheless become a reason for Americans to overdose on beer and tequila every spring.”

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