Across America, Cinco de Mayo has become a day that stirs up a lot of complicated emotions for some of us who identify as Mexican or Mexican-American and are particularly conscious of the history behind the celebration.
While many find themselves seizing the day as a moment to truly appreciate Mexican culture, we cannot ignore the fact that Cinco de Mayo has historically been used as a clear display of cultural appropriation. In the 1980s, beer companies began to commercialize a once historic event for the city of Puebla, to target Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the United States. This snowballed into what essentially became an ambiguous celebration for America that is mostly known for its excessive drinking and overuse of stereo-typed Mexican decor. This has led to the day often being referred to as “Cinco De Drinko” and wrongfully called the day of “Mexican Independence”. A day that National Today found only 10% of Americans really know the true significance of.
So what exactly is wrong with this? Well for some it completely doesn’t matter but for others who are truly proud of where they come from and tired of seeing the misuse of their cultural symbols it means everything. The issue is complex.
For those who identify with their Mexican heritage, especially those of us who have grown up working and thriving in spaces where Cinco de Mayo has become a normalized festivity: how do we navigate a day like this when deep down we feel built up conflict in knowing the issues on display?
In reality, depending where you are on the spectrum of frustration there are many ways you can cope with it, for us there are 3 ways you can address the issue:
- Be informed and help inform others about what the day really means
- Be informed and help inform others about the problematic history of the celebration
- Find your way of impactfully navigating this particular day of celebration
To provide some additional resources and information peep below some of that information that may be helpful.
1.WHAT EXACTLY IS CINCO DE MAYO?
Before it became a commercial American holiday, Cinco De Mayo was powerful in particular for the city of Puebla, near Mexico City. On May 5, 1862 the Mexican army defeated the French Army in what became known as the Battle of Puebla. Mexico during this time was led by liberal president Benito Juarez, the first and only president in Mexican history with Indigenous roots. The French army during this time had come to claim unpaid debt by attempting to expand their empire and taking Mexican land. Under-armed and outnumbered, the Mexican army resisted and defeated the French army, becoming a revolutionary moment in the history of Mexico.
With particular significance in Puebla, Cinco De Mayo is a powerful day that symbolizes the power and beauty of Indigenous Mexican people. An army of primarily Indigenous and mixed ancestry individuals, during a time when the only Indigenous President Mexico would ever have was in power, defeated a colonizing world power to protect their land and culture.
2.WHAT HAS BEEN PROBLEMATIC ABOUT AMERICAN CELEBRATIONS?
The mere fact that a powerful moment in Mexican history was repackaged as a day to target Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in America is the first problem. With that comes the lack of genuine celebration for Mexican Culture. Many of us are proud to be Mexican and find ourselves deeply conflicted with the fact that our communities continue to be marginalized through various systemic forms of oppression. Yet, on this very day some of the same people who contribute to that marginalization, conveniently celebrate our culture for 24 hours. Amongst other issues, these are certainly the most prominent.
3.HOW CAN YOU NAVIGATE THE DAY?
It all goes back to who you are and what your beliefs are when it comes to topics of cultural appropriation. The most obvious option you have as an individual is to boycott it in any way you can. That however is not the only option as our feelings and experiences are complex.
We have come up with some additional things to do collectively if a complete boycott is not possible for you. For starters, you can choose to start informing people on how they can celebrate this more responsibly (no pun intended) and really get them to think about how and why they are partaking in the celebration in the first place. Especially when the celebration itself, within the context of life in America, is more than likely a commercial fabrication that really had no cultural intention to begin with.
An extension of that would be for us to take the holiday into our own hands. Start not only informing people what that day actually means and celebrating it critically. Celebrating our culture authentically, however we see that fit. As many more people start to become conscious of what this day really means, for some of us it is a responsibility to take a step back and put on for our culture in ways that truly represent it.
While we write this, we want to be honest that we do not speak for everyone on this issue BUT we write this as a group of individuals who care about our culture. We understand that privilege plays a large role in any perspective including our own.
With that being said we hope to spark a meaningful conversation.