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California History Project

The Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture (CESLAC) at UCLA introduces:

Cinco de Mayo in a Box

 A package of educational materials for use in meeting the California Eighth Grade Social Science Content Standards in History.

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  Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition

 Invented in California, 1862


  The U.S. and Mexican flags have been carried together in Cinco de Mayo parades since the very first celebration of the holiday in 1862.

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Based on the latest scholarship about the significance of the Cinco de Mayo holiday and its origins, the Cinco de Mayo in a Box  is a program of the California History Project, presented jointly by the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture and the California Latino Legislative Caucus Institute for Public Policy, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.

The contents of the box will include:

  • DVD containing a short video (approximately 20 minutes) on the history of Latinos in California, the Cinco de Mayo holiday, and its origins in Civil War-era California.
  • Teacher’s guide (both hard copy and on CD-ROM).
  • Educational game that can be used to test students’ mastery of the material (on CD-ROM).
  • Poster with basic information about Cinco de Mayo’s origins.
  • Maps.
  • Images of Abraham Lincoln, Benito Juárez, and Ignacio Zaragoza.
  • Images of the United States and Mexican national flags in the 1860s.
  • Facsimiles of period newspapers’ front pages, in English and Spanish.


** Cinco de Mayo in a Box makes the events and consequences of the U.S. Civil War more immediate for California’s students by enabling them to learn that California was directly involved in the issues at stake in the conflict, rather than simply a spectator while these events developed thousands of miles away.

** These materials are designed to be used in meeting the following California 8th-grade Social Science Content Standards for United States History and Geography:

 8.8 Students analyze the divergent paths of the American people in the West from 1800 to the mid-1800s and the challenges they faced.

           5. Discuss Mexican settlements and their locations, cultural traditions, attitudes toward slavery, land-grant system, and economies.

           6.  Describe…the Mexican-American War, including territorial settlements, the aftermath of the war, and the effects the war had on the lives of Americans, including Mexican-Americans today.

 8.10  Students analyze the multiple causes, key events, and complex consequences of the Civil War.

           6. Describe critical developments and events in the war, including the major battles, geographical advantages and obstacles, technological advances….

           7.  Explain how the war affected combatants, civilians, the physical environment, and future warfare.


*** Estimated cost of the package: $50.00.

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Many people think Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that was brought to the United States by Mexican immigrants in the early 20th century, but it is not. It is not even celebrated in Mexico. Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is a “fake holiday” invented by beer companies in the 1980s in order to sell beer, but it is not that, either.

Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico because it was created and first celebrated by Latinos living in California, in 1862. At that time, the Civil War was going on in the U.S., and the French had just invaded Mexico with the goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Juárez and replacing it with a monarchy. The majority of Latinos in the U.S. believed in the values of freedom and democracy, so they supported the Union side in the Civil War and President Juárez’s government in Mexico.

Learning that the Mexican army at the city of Puebla had defeated invading French troops on May 5, 1862, Latinos in California were overjoyed that freedom and democracy had won a victory over forces of slavery and elite rule in that country. It gave them hope that freedom and democracy would win in the U.S. Civil War as well. Latinos all over the state rejoiced and celebrated with fireworks, parades, speeches, and patriotic songs—and that was the first Cinco de Mayo.