Not So Happy Cinco de Mayo
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Today is a big day.
What do you have planned?
I plan on sitting at home doing homework. Or maybe watching Grey’s Anatomy. And spending some time talking about all the misconceptions around Cinco de Mayo.
Let’s address the first, and biggest misconception around the holiday:
Misconception #1: Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s 4th of July.
Cinco de Mayo is NOT the Mexican Independence Day. It’s not not not not not. The Mexican Independence Day is on September 16, and is a really big deal in Mexico. Everyone gets out to do El Grito, and there are tons of festivities.
Misconception #2: Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
Not really. In the state of Puebla it is celebrated, but for the most part Cinco de Mayo isn’t such a big deal in Mexico. On the other hand, I have many Mexican friends who started celebrating it after arriving in the U.S.
Want to know what the Cinco de Mayo really commemorates? A battle between the French and Mexico. Basically in the year 1862, Mexico was in a lot of debt to various countries, including France. So France came in to collect their debt (i.e. militarily attack Mexico and attempt to implement French rule of the country) and they ended up in the state of Puebla. There a tiny, unorganized army was somehow able to defeat the military might of France in the Batalla de Puebla. If not for this battle, Mexico might have taken over by France, and France might have been able to continue on their journey to their ultimate goal: to support the Confederate army in the Civil War that was raging at the time. Mexicans could be speaking French and the United States could be two countries.
And so we in the U.S. celebrate Cinco do Mayo, an important (yet relatively arbitrary) battle that no one actually knows about anyways. And how do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? With lots of drinking and partying, all advertised with images of Latina women. The way I think of it, Cinco de Mayo is a consumer holiday for white people to get drunk on behalf of brown people.
There also seems to be this sentiment that just for today, everyone is Mexican, celebrating together. But what are we really celebrating anyways? We’re definitely not celebrating La Batalla de Puebla. Maybe Mexican Independence (since that’s what so many people think Cinco de Mayo is)? But really, how much do you really care about that? I believe that we white people simply like to celebrate Cinco de Mayo because its a great excuse to have fun. It’s kind of like Saint Patrick’s Day, I mean, how many people even know who Saint Patrick was?
Except there is a big problem with just having fun with playing Mexican dress up. Because today, as millions of people across the U.S. are enjoying walking around in sombreros with fake mustaches on, throwing back tequila shots, and standing next to card board cut-outs of voluptuous Latinas, millions of Mexicans are not having as much fun. So many Mexicans are fighting just to be allowed to legally be here in the U.S., to work, study, live, and support family members back home, or even to receive health care. Mexicans and other Latinos are fighting to see their role in U.S. history equally reflected within public schools, or to even be able to walk the streets without being detained for being brown. Undocumented Mexicans are being criminalized for just existing in this country, even if they haven’t the resources to do so legally.
How fair does that sound to you? Mexicans never get to be “white” for a day, but today, anyone can enjoy the fun part of being “Mexican” for a day, without having to deal with the not-so-fun part. I’d like to encourage us all to think critically about what Cinco de Mayo is really about: the consumption of the Latina female body plastered around a bottle of beer.
Note: I found so many great images to supplement this post, but I couldn’t include all of them. Click some of the links included within the post to see some great examples.