The first time I heard about Cinco de Mayo was when a restaurant advertised it. Of course, the information provided didn’t say anything about the history behind the holiday. Then, I saw non-Mexican people wearing sombreros and I knew something was off.
After doing some research, I realized that celebrating Cinco de Mayo without knowing its meaning or caring to learn about Mexican culture is where the problem lies. On the other hand, some Mexicans and Mexican Americans have added a new meaning to this date. A meaning that, I think, wine—a beverage that universally symbolizes community and culture—can help us discover.
So, What Is Cinco de Mayo?
This date refers to the Battle of Puebla. In 1862, France sent an army to invade Mexico. A group of soldiers and civilians led by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French soldiers who outnumbered them in Puebla. This was only a symbolic victory, because shortly after, France sent a bigger army and succeeded in invading Mexico, remaining in power until 1867. However, the bravery of these men and their victory has been remembered as La Batalla de Puebla. It is still greatly celebrated in this town, while also being remembered by all Mexicans.
Those are the facts. No margaritas, tacos or beer were involved in this battle, and reducing this date to a day of beer-drinking and taco parties doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m not Mexican, but as an immigrant, I know that the line that divides cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation is very thin.
That’s why, to find out the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo, I did what should be done: I asked Mexicans and Mexican Americans what Cinco de Mayo means to them and what they think about non-Mexican people celebrating this “holiday”.
A Wide Range of Interpretations
While some Mexicans living in the United States don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo and find it to be a distortion of what this date is about, others have found a new meaning in it—perhaps one that only first-generation Americans and those who have lived far from their motherland for too long will understand.
In this situation, those individuals might want to keep their culture alive in any way possible and have a profound desire to pass it on to new generations. In this case, any celebration that reminds them of their heritage might be welcomed.
For Master of Wine Martin Reyes, who is also a winemaker, importer and activist, the commercialization of Cindo de Mayo is problematic. “Companies recognized that beers, margaritas, and tequilas could be pushed. They took advantage of that and made it into a commercialized effort, the way that Christmas and Thanksgiving are. So, yeah, we have a complicated relationship with Cinco de Mayo,” he says. However, Reyes, who speaks only Spanish to his kids to remind them of their heritage, has started to see Cinco de Mayo as a way to connect with family and friends.
“Rather than to lambast the capitalists for distorting the original meaning, I choose to look at what’s positive as a result of it, and what can come out of that human connection,” he says. “This is what I’m always after.”
On the same note, Mexican American Tomas Bracamonte, founder of La Competencia Imports, hopes that this date becomes a tool to connect people on both sides of the Río Grande. “Rather than an excuse to get ‘borracho’ [drunk], I hope that it becomes a celebration of Mexican American culture and how we as neighbors can learn and benefit from one another.” To achieve this goal, he says, “sharing a bottle of Mexican wine with friends and family could be a step in the right direction.”
Mexico’s Growing Wine Scene
The history of Mexican winemaking dates to the days of the Spanish invasion. The first winery was established in the 16th century. For this reason, even though tequila is a more well-known Mexican beverage, wine is not new to Mexican culture. As a result of a local wine industry renaissance over the last fifteen years, today there is a wide range of white, rosé, red and even sparkling wines that can perfectly match an exquisite Mexican dish.
“Given the boutique nature of the Mexican wine industry, nearly all of the wineries in Mexico are family-owned,” adds Bracamonte. “Whether you’re visiting Baja California, Querétaro, Guanajuato or Coahuila, these wine regions are unlike any other region in the world. If you are a wine and food geek, visit them all. Mexican wine and gastronomy are amongst the best, but ‘el secreto de México, es la gente.’” Translation: Mexico’s secret is its people.
After all, it’s people who give meaning to things, whether it is art, a battle against France or the aromas of wine. What’s important is to be just a little bit curious and care about what symbols or holidays mean to others.
For the Mexican and Mexican American community in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is not only a date to remember La Batalla de Puebla, but to celebrate with family and friends, and pass on their Mexican culture to new generations. If you are interested in celebrating Cinco de Mayo, start by understanding what this means and maybe grab one or two bottles of exceptional Mexican wine.
Notable Mexican Bottlings
“Bruma Vinicola Ocho Tinto 2020 pairs succulently with quesadillas, tlayudas or carne asada since it has a palate with depth of complexity,” says Martha Cisneros, a New Yorker raised in Mexico, content creator and founder of Latinas Wine Club. “It has a firm but elegant attack, velvety tannins on the middle palate, and a long but rounded finish.”
Meanwhile, Bracamonte suggests pairing a crisp white from Baja California with ceviche. Also great? “An outstanding Marselan from Querétaro is a home run with barbacoa, and a big red from Coahuila’s Parras Valley is the perfect pairing for a steak.”
Reyes, on the other hand, advises looking for wines from Chihuahua. “My family is from Chihuahua, so I do have to make a plug for Bodegas Pinesque, that’s one of the first wineries in Chihuahua,” he says. “People don’t think of Chihuahua besides the dog. They don’t think of it as a wine region. [It’s a] wildly, wildly complicated terroir and a fun place for people to make wine.”
All of these bottlings are excellent ways to explore Mexican culture. “So many [people] think celebrating Cinco de Mayo is about enjoying Mexican cuisine, reducing that to chips, guacamole and margaritas,” says Cisneros. “However, it is much more.”
Last Updated: June 12, 2023