Cinco de Mayo—or the fifth of May—commemorates a ragtag Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France's ruling pursuit at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). It is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico. Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, as they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla. Today, the occasion is marked with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods such as tacos and mole poblano. Some of the largest festivals are held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
After independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico was reborn as a sovereign nation. Its borders stretched from California to Guatemala. It was a huge and ancient land of ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse regions that struggled for national unity. Texas, (originally known as Coahuila y Tejas) was a frontier region far from the dense cities and fertile valleys of central Mexico, and a place where immigrants were recruited from the United States. Though immigrants in turn declared the Mexican territory an independent republic in 1836 (later a U.S. state), it became one of the first cauldrons of Mexican American culture. By 1853, the government of Mexico, the weaker neighbor of an expansionist United States, lost California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. In spite of realigned borders, the historical and living presence of Spaniards, Mexicans, indigenous peoples, and their mixed descendants remained a defining force in the creation of the American West.
A legendary Mexican American civil rights activist to note is Cesar Chavez (1923 - 1993). He helped change farming conditions for Mexican Americans through organized non-violent means. Chavez's tactics shaped the struggle to one of a moral cause that gained national support. His methods effectively forced growers to recognize the UFW (Union of Farm Workers) as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. Cesar Chavez established with Dolores Huerta the National Farm Workers Association (present day UFW) in 1962.
Cesar Chavez Dolores Huerta