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Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Martha Stewart Living, May 2003

Cinco de Mayo just isn't a fiesta without crispy empanadas (and fresh margaritas). Our little turnovers get their Mexican heat from both chipotle and poblano chiles -- ingredients that are abundant in Puebla, the area where this holiday originated. It was there on May 5, 1862, that an outmanned Mexican army defeated invading French troops. Today, Cinco de Mayo brings revelry and festive foods to both sides of the border.

Not to be mistaken for Mexico's independence day (which is celebrated on September 16), Cinco de Mayo is largely a phenomenon in the United States, popularized here during the 1960s, when Mexican Americans re-embraced their roots. They chose Cinco de Mayo over the September holiday because the former falls near the end of the school year, a fitting time for celebration in the classroom.

The Battle of Puebla, a Davidic victory for the Mexicans, was an embarrassment to Napoleon III's well-equipped troops. Even though France ultimately prevailed, winning enough conflicts to occupy Mexico (until 1867), the victory at Puebla shines as an example of the spirit of its citizens. On Cinco de Mayo, a contagious excitement fills the air, as millions of people -- with or without Mexican roots -- enjoy parades and dancing, listen to mariachi music, and savor the many tastes of Mexico.