Photograph By Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post/Getty
Read Caption

Traditionally dressed dancers take to the stage to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado.

Photograph By Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post/Getty

5 Best Cinco de Mayo Celebrations—That Are Not in Mexico

Wrestling matches in Phoenix and a screaming contest in St. Paul are some of the highlights of this year’s U.S. celebrations.

To many Americans, Cinco de Mayo means tacos, tequila, and other festivities. Some mistake Cinco de Mayo for the Mexican day of independence, but that holiday actually falls on September 16. In fact, Cinco de Mayo marks a day in 1862 when the Mexican army won over France at the Battle of Puebla. At the time, the countries were locked in the Franco-Mexican War, and Mexico’s unlikely victory served as a turning point.

Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico today, except for some scattered events in Puebla and a few larger cities. Students get the day off but banks and government offices stay open. (Related: “Why Cinco de Mayo Is Celebrated”)

In contrast, a combination of Mexican-American pride and mass marketing of the holiday have led to widespread festivities in the U.S., making the holiday we celebrate a uniquely American experience. Here are five places to get in on the Cinco de Mayo action.

Dancing in Denver

Starting on Saturday, a free Cinco de Mayo festival will kick-off in Denver’s Civic Center Park with live music and dance performances. About 400,000 estimated attendees can take in a Chihuahua race and a taco eating contest, or check out food vendors, artisans, and exhibitors scattered throughout the park. A parade will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and a low rider car show will take place along Colfax Avenue all weekend.

Lucha Libre in Phoenix

The Cinco de Mayo Phoenix Festival actually starts on May 6, from noon to 10 p.m. in Downtown. The tradition has been going strong for 25 years, with national and local entertainers as well as chances to eat award-winning tacos, barbeque, snacks, and desserts. Attendees can enter to win vacations, prizes, and more at exhibitor contests. There will be a kid zone, and of course there will be lucha libre—or professional wrestling—matches. Tickets start at $10 for admission.

Tunes in San Antonio

Viva Market Square! will celebrate its 300th anniversary in San Antonio’s Historic Market Square from May 2 through May 6. Food booths, artists, and specialty vendors will grace the event, along with entertainers playing blues, soul, Tejano, country, and rock music. There are many deals from local Mexican restaurants. The five-day festivities are free and family-friendly. If that’s not enough, the grand opening of San Pedro Creek Culture Park also happens on May 5.

Festivities Galore in San Diego

San Diego’s Cinco de Mayo festivities start in Balboa Park. A celebration there will feature Mexican-themed music and dance performances, arts and crafts vendors, and food trucks. Along with kids’ activities, there will also be horseback riders, mariachis, and a traditional fashion showcase. Separately, a free weekend fiesta will take place in Old Town, with live music, a car show, and Mexican dance. The Tacos, Tequila, and Beer Festival will also kick-off on Saturday, along with the cultural festival Cinco By the Bay.

Screaming in St. Paul

Cinco de Mayo West Side will begin festivities with a parade, live music, and a car, truck, and bike show. There will be plenty of contests, from eating jalapenos and hot dogs to one for emoting. The El Grito, which translates to “the scream,” is a contest for participants to show their best expressions of joy or excitement to win a $100 cash prize. There will also be Zumba and kids’ activities alongside margarita and beer gardens. Additionally, the Festival of Nations will bring more multiculturalism to the city, and the 44th annual MayDay Parade, Ceremony and Festival will kick-off on Sunday.

Food Is the Root of Friendship in Mexican Village Sixty thousand tamales and 5,000 gallons of hot chocolate will feed celebrants at an annual pre-Christmas fiesta in Milpa Alta, Mexico. Here, as everywhere, food transcends its role as sustenance to bind communities and traditions together.

Click here to read more about how food brings us together online in National Geographic magazine.