Despite the popular rhetoric, Cinco de Mayo has very little to do with margaritas, Mexican beer and tortilla chips.

Today's holiday celebration often includes such rituals but a history lesson should accompany any order. Many Americans and even multi-generation Mexican Americans confuse the date with Mexico's Independence Day from Spain on Sept. 15.

The Cinco de Mayo holiday commemorates the May 5, 1862, battle where Mexican troops defeated French troops at Puebla, east of Mexico City. The well-armed French soldiers were there to help establish a monarchy and collect some of the debts owed them from years of civil war. They met a resistance force of commoners who were fighting for Mexico's future.

The French had arrived at Veracruz in 1861, along with British and Spanish troops after Mexicans stopped paying their debts. The British and Spanish got a repayment schedule worked out and went home but the French, at the urging of the exiled Conservatives, started their march to Mexico City. They were so sure of victory they reported it to Napoleon III and even brought their own prince to rule Mexico.

It took the French several months and thousands of fresh troops to capture Puebla and eventually all of Mexico. Their intervention lasted until 1867 when widespread resistance led to their defeat.

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