top of page
  • gallopade

Historical Happenings in May 2023

May flowers are in bloom, and so are this month’s monumental moments! With Teacher Appreciation Week, Mother’s Day, and graduation coming up, your calendar is probably full. Let us help take lesson planning off your plate so you can enjoy the last month of school before summer vacation! Enjoy these lesson plan ideas, free resources, and activities to teach your students about this month’s “Historical Happenings.”

History at a Glance:
  • May 1–31, 2023: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

  • May 5, 1862: Cinco de Mayo

  • May 10, 1869: Transcontinental Railroad

May 1–31: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ achievements, culture, and contributions are commemorated every May. defines Asian/Pacific as “encompass[ing] all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island).”[1]

Nakahama Manjiro was the first Japanese immigrant to arrive in the U.S. (Millicent Library, public domain.)

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month began as a week-long observation starting on May 4, 1979, and was extended to a month in 1992. May was designated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to coincide with the date the first Japanese immigrant, Nakahama Manjiro, arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843. Another factor in Congress’ decision to observe May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is the anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.[2]

Learn more about the lives and legacies of notable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our “Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month” blog. Plus, explore our Asian Pacific American Heritage titles and the resources below to incorporate into your lesson plans.

Teacher Resources:

  • “Timeline of Manjiro’s Life” by EDSITEment: At just 14 years old, Nakahama Manjiro came to the U.S. aboard an American whaling ship on May 7, 1843. The ship’s captain, William Whitfield, rescued Manjiro and his crew after their fishing boat wrecked 300 miles from their village in Usa, Japan. Captain Whitfield adopted Manjiro and brought him to his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. In this reproducible timeline, learn more about Manjiro’s remarkable life (including becoming a samurai).

  • “Samoan Art in the Tatau (Tattoo)” by the National Park of American Samoa: The application of tatau, or tattoo, is a symbolic rite of passage in Samoan culture and is representative of their heritage. The designs and placements of the tatau vary for Samoan men (who receive the traditional pe'a design) and women (who receive the traditional malu design). This activity helps students understand the tatau’s historical and cultural significance.

May 5, 1862: Cinco de Mayo
Painting of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
"Batalla de Puebla" by Francisco P. Miranda, 1872. Public domain.

Contrary to the common misconception, Cinco de Mayo is not the same as Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16). Translated “the fifth of May,” Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican army’s defeat of France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s also recognized in the U.S. as a day to honor Mexican Americans’ heritage and culture.[3]

In the early 1860s, Mexico was in debt to several European countries (France, Spain, and England), which Mexican President Benito Juárez delayed paying.[4] England, Spain, and France sent ships to Mexico to demand repayment. England and Spain had withdrawn their fleet by April 1862 after negotiating with Mexico; however, France’s troops remained, intending to overthrow the government and take control of Mexico.[5]

France planned an attack on Puebla de Los Angeles, with General Charles Latrille de Lorencez leading the way. In response, President Juárez assembled an army of 2,000 soldiers under General Ignacio Zaragoza’s command. General Lorencez attacked on the morning of May 5, 1862, and by that evening, he and his troops surrendered and retreated. The Mexican army’s victory became symbolic of resistance to European invaders.[6]

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla with parades and reenactments, but the holiday isn’t federally recognized in Mexico. In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has also come to be associated with Mexican culture and history, largely thanks to the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.[7]

Celebrate this victorious moment in history as well as Mexican heritage with these fun activities!

Teacher Resources:

  • Serve Mole Poblano: Learn about the Battle of Puebla while enjoying cuisine that comes from the town of Puebla! Mole poblano is a popular Mexican dish that was created in Puebla and is known for its signature rich, chocolate-brown color. Mole (pronounced mo-lay) gets its name from the Aztec word mulli, which means “sauce.” There are different types of moles, but mole poblano is specific to its town of origin and is made using Mexican chocolate, chilis, fruits, toasted seeds, and nuts. This thick sauce is poured over chicken, beef, or enchiladas. You can purchase mole poblano from Mexican markets or make your own from scratch using this recipe.

  • “A Taste of Mariachi Music for the High School Orchestra” by Smithsonian Folkways: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with music! These recordings of various mariachi bands’ songs and videos from their performances teach students about the significance of this genre of music in Mexican culture.

May 10, 1869: Transcontinental Railroad
Railroad workers and onlookers pose for a photo at the ceremonial final spike of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.
Railroad workers and onlookers pose for a photo at the ceremonial final spike of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. ("East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail" by Andrew J. Russell. Public domain.)

The final spike in the Transcontinental Railroad was hammered on May 10, 1869, by Central Pacific Railroad President Leland Stanford in Promontory, Utah, ceremoniously joining the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad.[8] Traveling across the continental U.S. by train was now possible!

Up until this point, travel between the East and West was limited to steamship, stagecoach, and wagons, which, as you can imagine, took months and was expensive.[9] Seeing a need to provide an alternative mode of transportation to accommodate the United State’s westward expansion, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act on July 1, 1862. Two companies—Central Pacific and Union Pacific—were chosen to build the railroad. Union Pacific built tracks going west, starting in Omaha, Nebraska. Central Pacific laid its tracks going east, beginning in Sacramento, California. These two railroads would meet and join together in Promontory, Utah.[10]

Construction began in 1863 and was completed in 1869. Union Pacific’s workforce consisted primarily of Irish immigrants, many of whom were Civil War veterans.[11] Central Pacific employed an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese immigrants, who accounted for 90 percent of the workforce by 1867. Chinese workers labored in dangerous conditions, including mining tunnels, using explosives, and logging. Paid only $31–$35 a month, these laborers earned significantly (about 30-50%) less than the white railroad workers they worked alongside.[12]

It’s vital to American history to remember and honor the memories of these railroad workers who made westward travel possible. So this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, hop on board the train and travel through time as you teach your students about the Transcontinental Railroad and the Chinese railroad workers who built it.

Teacher Resources:

  • “Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project” by Standford University: This study provides an in-depth look into the people's lives who built Central Pacific’s railroads. These teacher resources include free lesson plans for high school instruction that cover the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S. and videos of interviews with the descendants of the Chinese railroad workers.

  • “The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad” by EDSITEment!: The transcontinental railroad brought economic prosperity and a faster mode of transportation, but it also harmed the environment and the indigenous people living in the West. This lesson plan includes videos, primary sources, and activities to help your students understand the positive and negative effects the Transcontinental Railroad had on the U.S.

For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, check out our other blogs for even more resources!

Sources: [1] “About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month.” Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Accessed 28 April 2023.

[2] “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage and History in the U.S.” EDSITEment, 27 August 2019, Accessed 28 April 2023.

[3] Editors. “Cinco de Mayo.” 20 April 2023, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[4] Ostroff, Hannah S. “The real history of Cinco de Mayo.” Smithsonian, 3 May 2021, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[5] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Cinco de Mayo". Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2022, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[6] Editors. “Cinco de Mayo.” 20 April 2023, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[7] Martinez-LeGrand, Nicole. “The Real History Behind Cinco de Mayo.” Indiana Historical Society, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[8] Chesley, Kate. “First Transcontinental Railroad and Stanford forever linked.” Stanford University, 8 May 2019, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[9] Editiors. “Transcontinental railroad completed, unifying United States.” HISTORY, 29 March 2023, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[10] Marsh, Carole. The Transcontinental Railroad: The Big Race to the Golden Spike. Gallopade International, 2010.

[11] Brown, Amy. “Irish Railroad Workers.” Utah Historical Markers, Accessed 1 May 2023.

[12] Kennedy, Lesley. “Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Immigrants Made It Happen.” HISTORY, 28 April 2023, Accessed 1 May 2023.


bottom of page