"The Fifth of May" marks the victory of the Mexicans over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
About 2,000 Mexican men led by Gen. Ignazio Zaragoza fought back 6,000 French-commanded soldiers trying to capture forts in Puebla de los Angeles, Mexico.
The Mexicans won the battle but lost the war; the French conquered the country.
But even during the short period of French rule, Mexicans celebrated Cinco de Mayo, a source of national pride; the town's name was changed to Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of the victory.
Given this solemn history, some Mexican-Americans say they feel the alcohol industry has co-opted the celebration, and activists say they want to reclaim their holiday.
This year, a group called Latinos & Latinas for Health Justice has organized alcohol- and tobacco-free events in California and Arizona as part of its "Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo" (Fifth of May with Pride) campaign.
A 1994 letter to the editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer said some stunts - including a jalapeno-eating contest and construction of a giant "fajita" in which toppings were slathered on participants - "may have been carried out 'in the spirit of fun' but they were received as insensitive and degrading by those who understand and wish to learn more about Cinco de Mayo."
Sources: "Celebrate! Holidays in the USA," a summary prepared by the U.S. Embassy; the Associated Press; Enquirer files
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