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8 Classroom Activities to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on May 5th each year. While many places celebrate Cinco de Mayo with images of Mexican sombreros, Mexican food, piñatas, Mariachi bands, and margaritas, the actual history behind the holiday is much different.

Contrary to popular belief, May 5th is not the day Mexico gained independence from Spain. That day is September 16th. In fact, the significance of May 5 occurred 50 years after Mexico gained its independence. In 1861, Mexican president Benito Juárez declared that Mexico was too poor to pay all of its debts to other countries. Upon hearing this, France decided to invade Mexico and claim it as a French territory.

However, when French troops invaded Puebla on May 5, 1862 they were met by a group of Mexicans who fought them off, even though there were double the amount of French troops. The French retreated and moved on to capture the capital of Mexico City. But with help from the U.S., the Mexicans were ultimately able to defeat the French and reclaim their country. The battle in Puebla symbolized the strength and resistance of the Mexican people. The battle also inspired the Union troops fighting in the U.S. Civil War to keep fighting for their country. Soon, May 5 was celebrated with parades and dances in the U.S. and has grown into a yearly celebration around the country.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico, where it is mostly recognized just in the town of Puebla. However, much can be learned from studying the history of this event and students may even be inspired to stand up for themselves in a tough situation.

Teachers can take the opportunity to not only implement lessons about the history of Cinco de Mayo but also about the culture of Mexico. Some examples include:

#1- Have students research the Mexican flag and currency and draw a picture of each.

#2- Have students study the geography of Mexico and its proximity to the United States. Use a map and a globe to locate Mexico, Mexico City, and Puebla, as well as France, to discuss the distance French troops had to travel to fight.

#3- Discuss the term “imperialism” and examples of imperialistic countries in history.

#4- Study Mexican culture, including food, clothing, music, dance, and art.

#5- Discuss the influence of Mexico in the U.S. Include research and discussions about where many Mexican immigrants reside in the U.S. and why they tend to reside in those areas.

#6- Play Mariachi songs and classic Mexican songs, such as “De colores” and “La cucaracha” and have students sing along. Students could create their own instruments and also play along to the music.

#7- Research Mexican musicians and artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and critique and analyze their work.

#8- Study the animals of Mexico.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a beautiful story by Alma Flor Ada e Isabel Campoy:


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