Every May, a holiday comes along that brings with it controversy and a problematic avalanche of appropriation. No, I'm not talking about Mother's Day. I'm talking about Cinco de Mayo. Some folks see it as a day to simply celebrate Mexican heritage in the United States. Others, however, use it as an excuse to act out racist stereotypes, drink tequila, and, for lack of a better explanation, act a fool. That's why I asked mothers of Mexican heritage to share the things Cinco de Mayo is... and is not. Because honestly, America, this has gone on long enough.
For those who aren’t yet aware, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. That, my friends, falls on Sept. 16. Instead, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory against the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. As such, the holiday is only officially celebrated in the state of Puebla, and most fervently celebrated within the city of Puebla itself. Mexico is a very large country and as diverse as any other, so the assumption that all Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo is incorrect. Many Mexican Americans (or Chicanxs) celebrate the holiday here in the United States, and many others do not. There are no hard and fast rules about the particular day, other than it shouldn’t be called “Cinco de Drinko."
When I was younger, I didn’t get the opportunity to learn more about the Mexican side of my heritage. Friends would get together to drink margaritas and Mexican beer and make American-style tacos and, honestly, I didn’t think much of it. These days, however, I recognize that while it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the day, it’s important to do so respectfully. In our current political climate — when we have a president who has repeatedly disparaged Mexico and labeled the country's citizens rapists, criminals, and drug dealers — it feels even more important than ever to speak out about the way some people approach this holiday. As such, I got feedback from a few Mexican and Mexican-American moms about what this holiday is, what it should be about, and what folks shouldn’t be doing.
“I am half Mexican and I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where the culture is a mesh of Mexican and Texan (white) celebrations. A lot of the white people (and other non-Mexicans) for decades have embraced the dual cultural-ness of San Antonio. While I find some instances of it can be problematic or done in ignorance, and I do not support cultural appropriation, I find that in San Antonio, when I see old white men wearing guayaberas or celebrating Fiesta, it is done not because they are appropriating Mexican culture, but because Mexican culture has become so ingrained in San Antonio and San Antonio culture that they are embracing the culture of where they live. I will say that I think it is stupid when people celebrate Cinco de Mayo without bothering to know what the day stands for, and just use it as an excuse to get drunk.”
“It’s not an excuse to eat tacos and drink tequila. Not all Mexicans celebrate it! There are so many subcultures within Mexican culture. We are not all the same!”
“I'm Mexican and I don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I think ‘Chicano people’ celebrate it more than Mexican people.”
“I am Chicana and I have always celebrated Cinco de Mayo, even after I realized it’s not widely celebrated amongst the Mexican culture. I have always appreciated it to be a day of Americans celebrating Mexican culture. It’s tough to be not American enough for Americans and yet not Mexican enough for the Mexicans. So I have always had fun with a holiday that is more, I guess, Mexican American."
“It's not really a holiday we ever celebrated growing up, so we don't celebrate it either. We do discuss the appropriation of the day.”
“I don't really know how I feel about it. I guess if someone wants to celebrate it, at least know the reason behind it. Not every Mexican celebrates it, just like not all white people celebrate St. Patrick's day. I'd argue a lot don't even know the reason behind [the day], either. It seems people just want a ‘justifiable’ reason to get wasted and be offensive.”
“Mexicans don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It’s not a holiday recognized in Mexico. Mexican Independence Day is in September. Americans will come up with any excuse to drink and eat the food of another culture while dehumanizing its people in every other way.”
“I think it’s a day not to mock Mexican culture, not to wear sombreros, sarapes, mustaches, and scream off key gritos after downing tequila until you puke.”
“I grew up in Texas so this has been bothering me for a long time. The appropriation of Cinco de Mayo is another example of how dominant American culture infantilizes and dismisses us. We're dangerous and stupid except when they want us to lend them our foodways or our generosity or our language. They mock us for being lazy drunks and then make fools of themselves by draping themselves in cheap straw hats and drinking so much that they puke on their party-store ponchos. It's a constant reminder that our culture is theirs to mock and dissect and digest. I remind my children that this is not a big holiday for us and we don't celebrate it.”
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