In Houston, ballet folklorico dancers will ring in Cinco de Mayo by stomping to traditional Mexican music in a city park. New York City will close parts of Spanish Harlem and Queens for street fairs as Mexican flags flap from apartment fire escapes and car antennas. Albuquerque honors the day with a Mariachi concert and free cab rides for those who show their love for Mexico with a little too much Dos Equis XX or tequila. 

Even West Des Moines, Iowa, has an all-day festival with Mexican food, artwork and live music.

The holiday has spread from the American Southwest, even though most are unaware of its original ties to the U.S. Civil War, abolition and promotion of civil rights for blacks.

Often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day (that's Sept. 16), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla between the victorious ragtag army of largely Mexican Indian soldiers against the invading French forces of Napoleon III. Mexican Americans, during the Chicano Movement of the 1970s, adopted the holiday for its David vs. Goliath storyline as motivation for civil rights struggles in Texas and California.

Over the years, the holiday has been adopted by beer companies as a way to penetrate the growing Latino market, even as the historical origins of the holiday remain largely forgotten.

David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine and health services at UCLA and author of the newly released "El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition," said the holiday's history in the U.S. goes back to the Gold Rush when thousands of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America came to California during the Civil War.

For tequila and chip producers, the day is a big money maker. 

Jody Agius Vallejo, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California and author of "Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class," said Cinco de Mayo is now used by assimilated Mexican Americans as an easy way for them to showcase their ethnic identity.

"It's very similar to how Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day," said Vallejo. "One way they can honor their ethnicity is to celebrate this day, even when most don't know why."

But not all buy in. "To others," she added, "this holiday is kind of viewed as a joke because they feel it's their culture that is being appropriated and exploited."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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