The Battle of Cinco de Mayo: Memory, Myth, and Museum Practices in Mexico

Robert Mason


On May 5th, 1862, heavily outnumbered Mexican troops succeeded in defeating the invading French army at the Battle of Puebla. The battle did little to change the war’s outcome, but became a powerful symbol of Mexican national unity that helped to make sense of the violence of the previous decades. Celebrations to commemorate the Cinco de Mayo began almost as soon as the battle had ended, and have since evolved in Puebla to become one of the city’s pre-eminent expressions of civic identity. This article explores the evolution of the battle’s commemorations over a five-year period, during which the city invested in multiple new museums and tourist infrastructure connected to the iconic events. The article focuses on two key heritage precincts, containing six museums that were central to attempts to transform the historic city centre. The article explores how attempts to co-opt historic suffering was used to frame a narrative of civic democracy and inclusion. In so doing, it signals the role of state-level governments in curating a nationally significant memory. It also suggests a need for caution as government co-opts multiple stories into a means to augment its own authority.


Battlefield Sites; Puebla; Commemorative Practices; Heritage Politics

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Copyright (c) 2019 Robert Mason

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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