MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Mexico commemorated its Cinco de Mayo holiday with a re-enactment of its biggest military victory in the center of its capital.
While Hispanic communities in the United States mark the day with parades and street parties, the Cinco de Mayo holiday is a serious affair in Mexico. The holiday marks the May 5, 1862 battle of Puebla, when Mexican soldiers and peasants defeated an army sent from France by Napoleon III.
The anniversary of the battle commemorates the country's five-year struggle to oust an occupying French army, which invaded in 1861 and withdrew in 1866.
Though the French went on to defeat and occupy much of Mexico, "the victory of Puebla represents the moral force with which the Mexican people demonstrated to the world its resolve to forge its own destiny," President Ernesto Zedillo said during commemoration ceremonies in Mexico City on Friday.
"Wherever we are found, we always express and honor our love for Mexico, with all our hearts and our heads held high," Zedillo said.
On Friday, soldiers in Mexico City re-enacted the battle, which has become a powerful symbol of sacrifice and self-determination -- values the government wants to promote.
"We have consciously recognized the sacrifice our forefathers made to defend our country," said one man, a schoolteacher who came to the celebration Friday.
As part of that effort, the Mexican government invited a group of Mexican-American students to travel from Los Angeles to be part of the holiday ceremony. The students marched in a parade and received a quick lesson in love of country.
"We're coming back to our origins, to our parents' homeland and our origins; we're so proud to be here," said student Jose Ricardo Ruiz.
Mexico City Bureau Chief Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.