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Next Cinco de Mayo, Leave the Sombrero at Home

Let's just not.

Academy Sponsors Spring2017You might be surprised to know that your favorite Mexican holiday is as American as the bald eagle.

Many Americans don’t know that Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated in the United States. They also don’t know why they celebrate this day. In fact, many people think May 5 is Mexico’s independence day.

It’s not. That’s September 16.

In reality, this date commemorates La Batalla de Puebla on May 5, 1863, the day Mexican forces defeated a French military invasion outside the village of Puebla. Although Mexicans were outnumbered, they managed to fight off the French military. Raul Ramos,an Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston, writes, “The significance of Cinco de Mayo is that it represents Mexican resistance to foreign intervention, it is a moment where Mexico as a young nation rallied to defend itself, but it was not a struggle for independence. Instead it represented a struggle against imperialism.” So no, May 5 is not Mexico’s independence day. La Batalla de Puebla happened fifty years after Mexico’s independence from Spain, which was September 16, 1810.

Many Americans use this day as an excuse to drink and party. While doing so, they tend to culturally appropriate Mexican culture. Most Mexicans find it funny that Americans will walk around in sombreros, drinking beer and tequila on Cinco de Mayo. In fact, Mexican immigrants are often surprised when they find out Cinco de Mayo is a huge thing in the U.S. People in Mexico do celebrate it, but it’s only a big deal in Puebla. For the rest of the country, kids still have to go to school and adults still have to work. In the US, on the other hand, Cinco de Mayo has become the Mexican equivalent to St. Patrick’s Day. This is coming from a Mexican — I can assure you that we do not celebrate this holiday at my house. I asked many of my Mexican friends, including those from Puebla, if they celebrate Cinco de Mayo and the answer is always no.

It’d be relatively harmless for Americans to celebrate this non-holiday, but the downside is that it often leads non-Mexicans to appropriate Mexican culture by wearing stereotypical sombreros and drinking tequila. (Usually too much tequila.) Recently a fraternity at Baylor University in Waco, Texas was suspended for hosting a “Mexican” themed party. According to Skye Thomas, a freshman at Baylor University who attended the party, students were dressed in sombreros, ponchos, flower crowns and some even went as far as dressing up as maids. She reports that a bartender was wearing brown face paint and some students were wearing orange and green construction vests. It’s pretty clear that many who celebrate Cinco de Mayo joke about the culture and don’t respect it. My culture is not a costume, so seeing people portray my culture like this is just rude and offensive.

There are people that say there is some good to Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo. If you go to bars on Cinco de Mayo, a lot of people will be drinking tequila or Mexican beers. This means that Cinco de Mayo results in some of the highest sales for imported Mexican beers like Modelo, Corona, Dos Equis and liquor like tequila. According to a Fortune report, beer from Mexico produced about $4.4 billion in 2016 from restaurant and bar sales.

Ok, so yes, it’s one day that’s good for the booze industry. That doesn’t  change the fact that people are uneducated and ignorant.

Everyone can celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but keep in mind that this day is a remembrance of Mexico’s victory against France and not a day to mock our culture.

This piece was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and support our education programs, visit madison365.org/academy.