Cinco de Mayo has become one of the country’s biggest beer-drinking holidays.
It’s already topped Super Bowl Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day, and its beer sales are coming close to the numbers we see for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Father’s Day. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Cinco de Mayo usually falls on a workday.
No Hecho en México; Cinco de Mayo is pretty much an American holiday.
It was never a big festival day in Mexico, far less historically significant than the country’s Independence Day in September, and barely a blip of a celebration. It commemorates a rather obscure 1862 battle against the invading French army of Napoleon III. It was a minor and short-lived victory for the Mexican Army, but it happened to coincide with an early wave of Mexican immigration to the U.S., and the memory lingered and grew in importance among that group, even as it faded to obscurity in their homeland. Nearly a century later, the Chicano movement formed with the stated goal of empowering Mexican Americans to embrace their cultural heritage, and the movement’s cultural organizers somehow latched onto Cinco de Mayo as a pan-national Latino celebration in the U.S.
Some have called Cinco de Mayo the holiday that Corona built.
The day was little-known outside of California until the 1980s when the big beer money arrived. Beverage marketers formed separate Hispanic marketing divisions to target their promotions—Coors dubbed the ’80s ‘The Decade of the Hispanic‘— and focused their efforts on Cinco de Mayo. The real marketing powerhouse was Corona, which continues to plow $1 of every case sold year-round into Cinco de Mayo. The self-proclaimed ‘Drinko de Cinco,’ Corona’s sales went from 1.6 million cases in 1984 to more than 12 million cases a mere two years later, largely on the strength of a heavily focus-grouped pursuit of their primary demographic, North American male college students. The Corona behemoth has been so dominant that a mid-90s word association study identified Corona at the top of consumers’ minds when thinking of Cinco de Mayo.
Not quite Mexican beer for a not quite Mexican holiday.
The Mexican brands Corona, Modelo, and Pacífico are all owned by the Belgian-Brazilian company Anheuser-Busch InBev. Holland’s Heineken owns Tecate and Dos Equis. And Cinco De Mayo’s cultural resonance has become little more than a platform for corporate advertising and an excuse to grab a bottle of beer with a slice of lime. In other words, Cinco de Mayo is a fitting emblem of Latinos’ acceptance within the American melting pot.