Cinco de Mayo: A day many of us associate with food, music and half-priced margaritas at the local taco bar (some declare this as appropriation). A festive day; a celebration of Mexican American culture (when done correctly!). However, what often goes unrecognized is the true meaning of the day, and how it impacted United States politics.
First, let’s start with what Cinco de Mayo actually is:
It was on this day in 1862 that the Mexican army, under the command of Ignacio Zaragoza, defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla outside of Mexico City. This battle is a significant part of Mexican history as it symbolized Mexican resilience and opposition to the French.
So, why do we celebrate in the United States?
Sociologist David Hayes argues that Mexico’s defeat of the French army prevented the French from continuing north toward the U.S. border, where they would have likely provided aid to the Confederate army during the Civil War. Because the Union later went on to win the war, further leading to the abolition of slavery and the break-up of the confederacy, Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla has a direct impact on U.S. history and freedom as we know it.
When did Cinco de Mayo gain popularity in the United States?
It was in the 1960’s that Chicano activists recognized Cinco de Mayo as a day of solidarity to bring awareness to Mexican American culture during the Civil Rights movement. However, the holiday has since been marketed by major brands and corporations, and is largely celebrated by Americans with no ties to its history. Because of this, there are a number of Mexican Americans against its celebration, with some declaring the holiday as cultural appropriation.
So, how can you participate in the holiday without being tone-deaf to the Mexican American culture?
Like any holiday with cultural or religious significance, it is important that we do our part to educate ourselves and read up on both sides. There are ways to be racially sensitive and celebrate Cinco de Mayo — we just have to make ourselves a little more aware! To quote CNN contributor Paul Reyes: “Just consider how it would strike us if we saw another country marking the Battle of Gettysburg with binge drinking and Uncle Sam hats.”
Here is how to celebrate the occasion without being culturally insensitive:
- Read up on Mexican history!
- Celebrate with authentic Mexican cuisine.
- Listen to authentic Mexican music.
- Learn about Mexican American history and the Chicano civil rights movement.
- Educate yourself on current immigration events with the gnomi app!
Additional reading on how Cinco de Mayo influenced U.S. politics: “El Cinco De Mayo: An American Tradition” by David Hayes
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