First, I want to start off by introducing that I’m Mexican American, born in El Paso, raised in Juarez, Mexico for five years until my family decided to move to Austin, Texas in 1999. Since then, we have returned to visit every summer and winter break until 2006 when the drug cartel and crime rate rose too high enough for us to be able to visit and feel safe anymore. It wasn’t until last summer that my family and I were able to come back and see everyone we hadn’t for almost seven years, like my great grandparents and new cousins. With this in mind, I can’t remember celebrating Cinco de Mayo since elementary school, when I went to a bilingual school. Not that it isn’t a day worth celebrating, but I want to talk about the United States celebrating it and my concerns, especially now that I am surrounded by college students.
First, as I’m sure you know, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day. Cinco de Mayo is an anniversary of a victory Mexican forces had over French invaders in a war that Mexico lost, but they won this battle which signified an awesome possible but very unlikely turning point during a war that wasn’t going well for them. To some of my family members, it’s actually a reminder of things Mexico has lost. It’s a very misunderstood holiday that has become celebrated by Americans more than Mexicans, it became popular and more recognized in the 1960’s by Mexican-American activists who wanted to celebrate and acknowledge a culture. The U.S. then took the great marketing opportunity and used the holiday to sell their drinks and food, kind of like Valentine ’s Day with cards and chocolate. Cinco de Mayo is one of the top five drinking holidays in the states, so everyone from Mexico can undeniably agree the Cinco de Mayo is a much bigger deal here than at home. Mother’s Day receives more festivals and reason for celebration even, you’d be surprised how many of my family members in the states have asked me why people make such a big deal out of here, and all I can say is because they’ve chosen this day to celebrate Mexico, and food and drinks, I guess?
I personally don’t have a problem with people using Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink, or to sell drinks, and eat yummy delicious Mexican food, or sell yummy delicious Mexican food. My problem, and I think has only come to light since I’ve been in college, are the handful of people that become ecstatic to celebrate the holiday and praise the Mexican culture this one day out of the year, but, not be respectful of the people in any other given day. I have seen the same people who have made racist comments a month ago, wear sombreros and head out to the bar on the night of may 5th and drink to their hearts content. People who do not support illegal immigration reforms, but are the first to eat a deal on enchiladas. One of the biggest issues my mother has is when people dress up like “Mexicans”, in her exact words, translated from Spanish, “I don’t understand why people here get so excited to dress like Mexicans and celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but not bother to thank or just be ungrateful towards Mexican American workers in the country, illegal or not. The same people who tell us to leave and go home because we’re supposedly taking their jobs, or don’t want to see a Mexican American president, will dress up in ponchos this day of the year. I don’t understand.”
I again, personally don’t really mind people dressing up like Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo, as long as they are tasteful and respectful. But, I don’t like the argument against Mexicans celebrating July 4th compared to Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Because, one, again, Cinco de Mayo is not our independence day, and second, Mexican American’s now a part of this country, like my family, should want to celebrate their new home’s Independence Day, it’s an actual holiday, not a marketing tactic. But, you don’t see us stereotyping and dressing up like an entire culture, which would be hard to do however because the United States is so diverse.
Basically, my argument is if you’re going to celebrate a culture, just be respectful of it. If you’re going to proudly enjoy and post all over social media how many margaritas you had today, I hope you also support the struggle for fair immigration reforms and make that vocalized too. Thankfully in my circle of friends and most of the people I know, I don’t find it. They celebrate Cinco de Mayo, get their drinks and food, but also appreciate and respect the culture when it isn’t May 5th. I never really found myself annoyed until I came to college, which makes sense since we are all turning of age and able to drink legally. Maybe it’s because through my eyes Cinco de Mayo just isn’t a big of a deal like the people here who celebrate it, but then don’t make the second largest minority in the United States a big of a deal. I just don’t like the hypocrisy, that’s it. Every day should be Cinco de Mayo, especially in Texas (which usually is) with such heavy Mexican cultural influence. So please understand that I hope Cinco de Mayo keeps getting celebrated in the states the way it is, but I also hope people find there is more reason to celebrate than just drinks and food, and don’t find themselves in hypocritical situations. I love seeing people actually having such respect for any other culture besides their own, so with that, I am more than happy.