A misnomer about Cinco de Mayo is that it's Mexican Independence Day. It's not.
"Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16, " said Juan Gonzalez, a Spanish professor at Northern State University.
Cinco de Mayo -- May 5 in Spanish -- marks the date in 1862 where roughly 4,500 Mexicans in Puebla, a state in Mexico, stood against 8,000 French troops and won, Gonzalez said.
In 1861, Mexico owed a considerable amount of debt to France, Britain and Spain after the Mexican-American War. Since Mexico didn't have the funds, the country's government intended to default on the loans. All three European countries sent ships to negotiate with the Mexican government. While the Spanish and British government officials reached an agreement, the French wanted to collect the debt, Gonzalez said.
Napoleon III, emperor of France at the time, wanted to establish a foothold in the Americas.
"He wanted to use the excuse of debt and default to invade Mexico," Gonzalez said.
French troops at the time were one of the better-trained and well-equipped armies in the world, he said.
The Mexican troops, on the other hand, weren't as well armed or trained, he said.
The perceived differential between the two armies led to to the downfall of the French army, he said.
"(The French troops) were a little bit overconfident and these Mexican peasants took them by surprise and they defeated them," Gonzalez said.
The battle ended with the Mexican army driving the French troops back, Gonzalez said.
At the time, the victory was celebrated in the state. But most of modern-day Mexico doesn't celebrate it as much, Gonzalez said. He likens Cinco de Mayo to a day of statehood for the state of Puebla in Mexico.
"It's not that big of a deal (in Mexico)," Gonzalez said. "We in the U.S. like to take particular festivities and make it into a fun time."
Sergio Aguirre, co-owner of Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant, is from Mexico and confirmed the holiday is not widely celebrated there.
Aguirre's restaurant has celebrated Cinco de Mayo since it opened nine years ago, he said.
In 2012, the restaurant brought a dancing horse in for entertainment and he plans to bring in entertainment again this year.
The likely reason the day has become more popular in the U.S. than Mexico is from the civil rights movements in the 1970s, Gonzalez said.
"The Hispanics wanted to claim their pride and retake what had been taken from them -- not literally, but culturally," Gonzalez said. "In my opinion, that's when Cinco de Mayo took root and this group could claim a day of their own."
Gonzalez said the day can be used to connect cultures.
"These kind of festivals are a chance to reach out, enjoy each others' companies and learn from each other," he said. "That may be altruistic, but that's how I see it."