Cinco De Mayo: Join the fiesta but leave the stereotypes at home

Annabelle Rosse, Editor-in-Chief

It’s Cinco de Mayo! ¿Es hora de ponerse el poncho y el sombrero? Not so fast. 

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is synonymous with tacos, mariachi and buy-one-get-one deals at “Mexican” restaurants. It’s a mid-week celebration to distract you from the week’s stresses. Munch on some chips and salsa, and watch your family members demonstrate their best “Hispanic” accent. This, however, is exactly what makes many Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States problematic. Observance of authentic Mexican culture is rare within these “fiestas.” 

Despite Cinco de Mayo being a Mexican holiday, the United States celebrates with much more gusto than Mexico itself. It is not uncommon to see taco places (both authentic ones and your local Taco Bell) packed on Cinco de Mayo, a representation of how misguided most observers are. True, many people observe this holiday with good intentions, to support Hispanic-owned restaurants and recognize the culture. However, there are people that do not have the best judgement in how they celebrate. But the blame should not be solely put on the customer. Many “Mexican” establishments are not actually Mexican-owned, which results in a loss of authenticity. These restaurants advertise with giant margarita pitchers and plates piled high with nachos. It is very seldom that the true culture or meaning behind this notable day is mentioned in the business world, possibly because it simply doesn’t sell well. People are much more drawn to the exaggerated celebrations and activities, unaware of the potential cultural damage.

There is a familiar running gag this time of year. Every fifth of May, some non-Mexican people dress up in a ridiculous display of stereotypes. With enormous sombreros on their heads and Party City ponchos on their shoulders, they transform into crude caricatures. Normally, they are hailed as “hilarious” and the party continues, but the Mexican experience and our collective heritage is not a costume. This reality and its offensive connotations need to be known, in hopes that these “jokes” cease. If the public was more educated in the true history of Cinco de Mayo, maybe they would be swayed to celebrate it properly. 

Many Americans believe Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, which is not true. That holiday happens five months from now, on Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo marks a Mexican military victory over France. The Battle of Puebla was a triumphant win for the Mexican military, which was poised against one of the greatest armies in the world. It is believed that Cinco de Mayo’s observance was brought into the U.S. by migrant Mexican laborers in the late 1800s. It was purely a Mexican symbol of national pride, a courageous tale told from abuelos to nietos. 

However, as big companies continued to grow in the 50s and 60s, they needed a way to market towards the Latino demographic. Corporate America then discovered Cinco de Mayo and used it to their best commercial advantage. Soon, non-Hispanic consumers found a liking to this new “ethnic” fad, which meant the mass purchase of products like sombreros, fake mustaches and giant papel banners. Companies liked this response, so ever since, the beginning of May signals for the mass promotion of anything and everything “Hispanic.” However, many of these companies do not truly respect the culture they’re exploiting. The corporate vision of Cinco de Mayo fails to showcase authentic Mexican culture, paving the way for harmful stereotypes. There are, however, ways to celebrate this day whilst also gaining insight into Mexican culture. 

This Wednesday, consider listening to traditional Mexican music or streaming Selena, one of the most iconic Mexican-American recording artists in history. If music isn’t your thing, the family movie “Coco” is a wonderful representation of Mexican culture and is beautifully crafted to educate and entertain. There are also countless charities either celebrating various Hispanic cultures or fighting for equality. If you wish to help the Hispanic community through these groups, a donation to any of these charities would be greatly appreciated. Parties are good as well. Just be careful to watch what you are communicating to your guests. 

This is not an argument for Cinco de Mayo celebrations to be reserved strictly for Hispanic people. Anyone should be able to celebrate this holiday, as long as respect is given to the culture it yields from. Think of how you’re celebrating this historic day and make sure you are not perpetuating any negative stereotypes. Cinco de Mayo is a symbol of pride for many Mexican-Americans, so let us give this day the respect it certainly deserves.