For all practical purposes, "Cinco de Mayo" (Spanish for "Fifth of May") in the United States is a national day that celebrates the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican descent, much as St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are used to celebrate the cultural heritage and contributions of Americans of Irish, German, and Chinese ancestry, respectively.
"Cinco de Mayo" commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is celebrated primarily in the state of Puebla. "Cinco de Mayo" has limited significance and celebration nationwide in Mexico, but the date has gained over the years increasing popularity across most ethnic and racial groups in the United States and other locations around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. In the U.S. "Cinco de Mayo" is often confused with the date of the Mexican independence from Spain, which in celebrated on September 16.
The event that marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence is "El Grito de Dolores" ("Cry of Dolores"), also known as El Grito de la Independencia ("Cry of Independence"), uttered by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest, from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato on September 16, 1810. Hidalgo y Costilla’s "cry of independence" has become emblematic of Mexican independence and has acquired also a mythic status in Mexico.
"Cinco de Mayo" was first celebrated in the United States in Southern California in 1863 as a show of solidarity with Mexico against French rule. Since then, and particularly in the Southwest, it has been increasingly celebrated in urban areas with sizable Mexican-American communities. However, with increased Mexican immigration to the U.S., Cinco de Mayo's popularity has increased, spread to other groups, and has become an opportunity to celebrate Mexican identity, promote ethnic consciousness and build community solidarity. In the 1980s the holiday began to be commercialized on a wide scale and was finally adopted by mainstream America.
On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation urging the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Since then, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with significant enthusiasm in places such as la Placita Olvera (Los Angeles), The National Cinco de Mayo Festival at the National Mall (Washington D.C.), and the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta (Portland, Oregon).
The Chamber hosts simultaneous "Cinco de Mayo" parties throughout the Mid-Atlantic area, which are generally held in local restaurants featuring Mexican cuisine or hotels. They are widely publicized on the Chamber's event calendar.