When celebrating the Cinco de Mayo holiday, would you like a more authentic Mexican experience than simply ordering a margarita and chips and salsa at the local sports bar?
But maybe you’re not ready for a trip to Mexico either. Well, 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 is not Mexican Independence Day, which was September 16, 1810.
May 5 commemorates the Battle of Puebla in which Mexican General 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, which is 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 at Our Lady of Loreto Chapel.
Check out these places in the United States full of echoes of their Mexican past. They make a good travel destination during Cinco de Mayo or any time of year:
San Antonio, Texas: Remember the Alamo and more!
The Misión San Antonio de Valero in San Antonio, now known as the Alamo, was constructed by the Spanish and was later occupied by Mexican and Texas troops.
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 the shops at El Mercado sell pinatas, jewelry, clothing, leather and other goods. The square also hosts Primer Sabado events, or First Saturdays, with food booths, art, music and children’s programs.
San Diego, California
The birthplace of San Diego is preserved at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the site of the first Spanish settlement in California 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.
The Barrio Logan neighborhood initially welcomed people fleeing the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, and the area is now home to a 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, also home to 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.
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 US 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 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, 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 ofthe 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 three 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 US-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 welcomes horseback riding, hunting, bird-watching and bird migration counts. Look for the spring migration count on or around the second Saturday in May.