5 ways you can observe La Batalla de Puebla, aka Cinco de Mayo, in Kansas City
What better way to observe a day that celebrates freedom and democracy than by supporting local events, people and places? Here’s your Kansas City guide to exploring the true meaning behind La Batalla de Puebla in a new way.
The significance of May 5 to the Mexican American population is often misunderstood.
Nearly 200 years ago on the West Coast, news broke about Mexican troops defeating a French attempt to overthrow Puebla, Mexico. It was an unlikely win, but one that meant the world to Californio, Mexican and other Latinx miner workers. So, a couple of weeks after General Ignacio Zaragoza led his troops to victory, the miners burst out in celebration.
Thus began the celebration in honor of May 5, or el cinco de Mayo as it’s said in Spanish.
What better way to observe a day that celebrates freedom and democracy than by supporting local events, people and places? Here’s your Flatland guide to exploring the true meaning behind La Batalla de Puebla in Kansas City and in a new way.
How Cinco de Mayo began and what it means
The origins of Cinco de Mayo — literally translated as May 5 — have been buried over the years.
Instead of a rich understanding of why today is celebrated in some regions of the United States and Mexico, the day has become widely known as a day to party. This was fueled, in part, by stereotypical marketing campaigns that gained steam in the 1980s, which boiled down the cultural holiday to tacos, Coronas and margaritas.
That’s what Sandra Enriquez, an assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, hopes to demystify for us.
Enriquez, a native of the borderland of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is a social historian and also the director of public history at UMKC. She focuses on Chicanx and urban history as well as social movements.
The following is her contribution to better understanding what Cinco de Mayo’s celebrations signify for Mexican American citizens and for Mexicanos everywhere.
This timeline, provided by Enriquez, has been lightly edited for clarity.
Prelude: The aftermath of the U.S.-Mexico War in 1848 and the Reform War (a civil war) forced Mexico to borrow money from Spain, France and Great Britain. After decades of political turmoil, Mexico was bankrupt and faced an economic crisis. To regain control of the country, President Benito Juárez suspended payments to the European countries.
In late 1861, Spain, France and Great Britain sent military forces to Veracruz to demand Mexico pay its debt. Spain and Great Britain agreed to negotiate and retreated, but France had other plans. Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to install a new regime in Mexico. The French military invaded Mexico and took control of several cities in early 1862.
The Battle of Puebla: French troops arrived in Puebla on May 5, 1862 with certainty they would win the battle. The Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, surprised and defeated French troops. This was an unlikely victory. At the time, France had one of the most powerful military forces in the world. French troops had better equipment and weapons and outnumbered the Mexican army. Although Mexico won La Batalla de Puebla (the Battle of Puebla), the French shortly thereafter captured Mexico City, and imposed Emperor Maximillian to rule Mexico.
U.S. holiday or Mexican holiday: According to David Hayes-Bautista, author of “Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition,” the holiday originated in Columbia, California, mere weeks after the Battle of Puebla. On May 27, 1862, news about the French army’s defeat in Puebla arrived in the mining town. Californio, Mexican and other Latinx miners who had immigrated to the state because of the Gold Rush broke out in celebration. They sang patriotic songs, delivered speeches, had toasts and even shot their guns to the air honoring the Mexican army’s victory
Following this spontaneous celebration, Latinx social and patriotic groups created the holiday. These organizations shaped the public memory of the Battle of Puebla as a representation of anti-imperialism, freedom and democracy.
Cinco Celebrations Boom: By the 1930s and 1940s, Cinco de Mayo evolved into a celebration of Mexican American culture, ethnic solidarity and self-determination in the United States. In Kansas City, Cinco de Mayo celebrations have been taking place in the Westside since the 1920s.
The corporatized Cinco de Mayo celebrations we know today emerged in the 1980s. As corporate interests have tapped into “the Latinx consumer market,” the holiday’s origin has been lost. While the beer and alcohol industries have turned Cinco de Mayo into a drinking holiday and as an opportunity to stereotype Mexican culture, communities across the U.S. continue to observe the day as a celebration of Mexican American identity and heritage.
Here are 5 ways to honor the day
Attend Guadalupe Centers’ 100th Annual Fiesta, what they call the “original” Cinco de Mayo party in Kansas City, which began in 1922. You can find more information here. Or support Guadalupe Centers’ mission and programs here.
Take an Itra Icons Mural tour: The works of artist duo Isaac Tapia and Rico Alvarez — who also go by Itra Icons — have been taking over Kansas City, one mural at a time. See their latest works on 18th and Walnut or near the Country Club Plaza entitled “Xochitl y Huitzilin,” honoring the ancient roots and history of Latinx ancestry. Follow their work and musing here on IG.
Visit “La Onda,” a traveling exhibition of carefully curated works by local Latinx artists such as Kiki Serna, Chico Sierra and Cesar Lopez in Kansas City that tell the story of identity, migration and complex cultural ties to land and heritage. Find more information here.
Support Kansas City staple Mattie Rhodes’ new building reveal and check out a special exhibition entitled “CHICANO: Visions of Courage.” Click the link or support Mattie Rhodes social service programs here.
Support a local Mexican-owned business by becoming a patron of one of the local wellness centers or business services. Or steep in traditional flavors and new interpretations of Mexican cuisine, whether it’s cafe de olla, a Mexican vegan burger (you read that right) or a torta de birria. Then head over to get a massage and take an urban hike — in English or in Spanish — to discover new parts of the city you never knew about.
Here are several curated options, thanks to submissions by Kansas Citians like you:
- The Corner Mexican Food Restaurant in Grandview, Missouri
- La Pasadita Taqueria in Lawrence, Kansas
- Cafe Ollama on Kansas City’s Southwest Boulevard
- Big Mood Natural Wines in Kansas City Crossroads
- The Windmill in the Turner neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas
- Tacos Valentina Taqueria Pop-Up around the Kansas City metro area
- Pirate’s Bone Burgers in Kansas City’s Midtown area
- Elvira’s Mexican Bakery in Kansas City, Missouri
- Bonito Michoacán Meat Marketin Kansas City, Kansas, and Olathe, Kansas
- Mi Pueblito Meat Market in Shawnee, Kansas
- Spicy Mama’s Salsa
- Paleteria Tropicana in Kansas City and Wichita
- Relief Muscle Manipulation, owned by Celeste Aguirre
- MESA Chiropractic Healing Center in the Kansas City metro area
- Urban Hikes KC in the Kansas City metro area
- YOUnicá Event Planning in Warrensburg, Missouri
- Pandemix Printing in Kansas City, Missouri
- Abogada Denise Ramos, immigration lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri and Olathe, Kansas
- Midwest Chicana + Podcast and the Latino Arts Foundation, both founded by Deanna Muñoz
A few more ideas
In the vein of celebrating freedom and democracy, here are organizations that have a mission to empower the Latinx community in Kansas City through health literacy, education and more:
- JUNTOS, Center for Advancing Latino Health
- The Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative+ Latinos of Tomorrow
- Kansas Hispanic Education & Development Fund
- LNESC-KC Educational support and programs
- LULAC National Educational Service Centers
- Latinx Education Collaborative
- El Centro, offers services for community health, economic development and immigration advocacy