On Cinco de Mayo, find Mexico in the U.S.

Story highlights

  • Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla
  • Much of the Southwestern U.S. was once part of Mexico
  • Explore historical sites in Texas, Colorado and beyond
  • Old Town San Diego is hosting Fiesta Cinco de Mayo this weekend
When celebrating the Cinco de Mayo holiday, consider a more authentic Mexican experience than simply ordering a margarita and chips and salsa at the local sports bar. Not ready for a trip to Mexico right now? There is plenty of Mexico to explore and celebrate in the United States since much of the Southwest was once part of our neighbor to the south.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in which Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza led his outnumbered troops in defense of Puebla against the French on May 5, 1862. Zaragoza was born in 1829 just outside the Presidio La Bahia in Goliad (now part of Texas). The Presidio, or fort, displays a statue of Zaragoza, a Mexican national hero, who died of typhoid fever in 1862. Still operated by the Catholic Church, the Presidio hosts Mass every Sunday at the Our Lady of Loreto Chapel. (Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, 1810.)
Remember the Alamo (and more)!
Many people will mark the weekend holiday with a visit to the Misión San Antonio de Valero in San Antonio, now known as the Alamo, which the Spanish first constructed and Mexican and Texas troops later occupied. The March 6, 1836, battle between Mexican troops and Texas revolutionaries is known among descendants of the Republic of Texas as a great fight against impossible odds. The Mexican troops crushed the revolutionaries, but the Texans fought back victoriously later that year, and the Republic of Texas was born.
For a celebratory atmosphere, visit Market Square, where you can visit the shops of El Mercado to find pinatas, jewelry, clothing, leather and other goods similar to stores in Mexico. The square also hosts "Primer Sabados" or "First Saturdays" with food booths, art, music and children's programs. A couple of local dining favorites are the chilaquiles breakfast taco on flour tortilla at Blanco Cafe downtown and Henry's Puffy Tacos.
San Diego: First Spanish settlement on West Coast
The birthplace of San Diego is preserved at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the site of the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast and San Diego's first downtown. Mexico took over the downtown after the country won its independence from Spain in 1821. The six-block site contains preserved and restored adobe and wooden buildings, thriving restaurants and shops. Old Town will host Fiesta Cinco de Mayo on Friday through Sunday.
The Barrio Logan neighborhood initially welcomed people fleeing the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, and the area is now home to the local Mexican-American community, Mexican street art and modern art galleries. Some early evidence of the artistic scene can be found at Chicano Park beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass.
The Centro Cultural de la Raza is in Balboa Park, where children can also enjoy the San Diego Zoo and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. The center is a cultural arts center dedicated to Mexican, Mexican American, indigenous and other Latino art and culture.
Pueblo, Colorado: Flowing out of Sangre de Cristo mountain range
Established by Colorado's mix of early pioneers as Fort Pueblo, a smaller version of the current city of Pueblo was incorporated as part of the Colorado Territory in 1870. Colorado became a U.S. state in 1876. With the arrival of the railroad and an abundance of coal, Pueblo became a thriving steel town.
Each September, thousands of people come to Pueblo for the Chile & Frijoles Festival to celebrate the harvest of the town's most important crops: the mirasol green chile and pinto beans. The festivities have included chili and salsa competitions, a jalapeno pepper eating contest, a 5K fun run, art exhibitions and live entertainment.
To learn more about the region's history, check out the renovated El Pueblo History Museum in the Union Avenue Historic District. For arts and culture, look to the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center and the Buell Children's Museum. And the annual Colorado State Fair hosts nearly two weeks of livestock shows, rodeos and music starting in late August.
Spanish land grants in Arizona
Established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, the town of Tubac (now in Arizona) was once a stop on the road from Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the site of the Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac, the oldest fort in what would become the state of Arizona. Now it's an artist colony and home to many galleries. When you're finished gallery hopping, head to Elvira's restaurant, which was established in 1927 in Nogales, Mexico, and reopened in Tubac.
About 50 miles from Tubac, Rancho De La Osa was part of the original 3 million-acre land grant from Spain's king to the Ortiz brothers of Mexico in 1812. The rancho fell within the boundaries of the United States after the 1854 signing of the Gadsden Purchase settling the U.S.-Mexican border. It now welcomes overnight guests, who can view a cannonball on display that Pancho Villa reportedly fired at the house during the Mexican Revolution. The nearby Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is open 24 hours a day and welcomes horseback riding, hunting, bird watching and bird migration counts. (Look for the spring migration count on or around the second Saturday in May.)