SAN DIEGO — Many use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to go out for drinks or enjoy their favorite Mexican meal, but the majority don’t know the history behind the celebration.

Contrary to popular belief, Gerardo Rios says Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.

Rios, a professor of Mexican American studies and history at Southwestern College, says the day commemorates the battle of Puebla where the Mexican army defeated the French during the American Civil War on May 5, 1862.

“David and Goliath, the little guy beats the big guy. It’s certainly happened with Cinco de Mayo when the news hit back home in France, people couldn’t believe it what was described as a ragtag army of Mexicans had defeated the French imperial forces,” Rios said.

Rios says the date is not a widely celebrated event throughout Mexico, but it is in Puebla.

“Participating in that war was a way for them to defend their community, a way for them to defend their identity, their people, their lineage, heritage, that native story is often lost in the history of Mexico, of Cinco de Mayo,” Rios said.

When celebrating Cinco de Mayo, he wants people to keep this in mind.

“This is a very significant celebration within Mexico, that is a resurgent of people’s wills to be free,” Rios said.

Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on Sept. 16.