LearnLet’s Talk: Cinco De Mayo

Michelle Zohlman
writes on May 3, 2021

Every year, May 5th comes around. To a variety of people, it means to have a celebration. But, to what extent? Over the years, more and more information has been shared on how to respectfully celebrate this holiday and not culturally appropriate it. As always, let’s talk and explore that! 

First, let’s get on the same page. Cultural Appropriation may be a new term for you or one that is triggering. A lot of folx hear that term immediately shut down and think, “no, that’s not me!”. But what if it is? We need to accept when the appropriation is happening so we can move forward and fix it. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” 

In other words, it is taking something that is not part of your identity or culture and adopting it without understanding the history or customs around it and changing it to fit what you want it to be. I have been an example of this. As someone (especially in my naive college days), who love celebrating Cinco De Mayo, I’ve come to learn how much I didn’t know surrounding this date. I spent years ignoring and taking the time to learn and instead treated it as a celebration to drink tequila, going to parties with sombreros, and more. As a white individual, I jumped on the bandwagon and celebrated as I perceived the day instead of actually knowing it. 

Let’s discuss the real history of Cinco De Mayo! On May 5th, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French army of Napoleon III in what is known as the Battle of Puebla. This was a historic victory as the Mexican army was outnumbered but still won. It boosted morale and showed that they were capable of defending their territory. 

Cinco de Mayo wasn’t considered a national holiday until May 9th, 1882. Many of us don’t realize that it isn’t referred to as “Cinco De Mayo” in Mexico. This holiday is primarily celebrated in Puebla, where it is referred to as El Dia de la Batalla De Puebla. Many folx believe this day is a celebration of Mexico’s independence (which occurred more than 50 years before), but it recognizes a single battle. 

The celebration of it is smaller in Mexico in comparison to the United States, where it has taken a different form of celebrating Mexican culture and heritage. In Mexico, a celebration can include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla, and other events. As you probably already know, whether you’ve participated or seen photos online, the celebration is interpreted a bit differently in the United States with parades, margaritas, tacos, and music. 

In the ’60s, Mexican activists used Cinco de Mayo as a way to honor their culture. Decades following, it began to evolve where businesses saw this as a way to “capitalize on the holiday by marketing products to Latinx customers.” (Insider) This is where it began to change from being authentically celebrated in communities to all over the country with inaccuracies. 

If recognizing Cinco De Mayo or rather El Dia de la Batalla De Puebla, consider how you might celebrate it for what it is rather than what folx have culturally appropriated it to be. 

Here are some things to be mindful of: 

  • Support a local Mexican business that serves authentic food. Most of the Mexican meals we consume are not owned and operated by Mexican individuals. Chances are, the taco you’re eating isn’t something that would actually be eaten in Mexico. I’m not saying to ditch your favorite taco but if you’re going to recognize this holiday, do so with intention! 
  • Something you can ditch, though, is your sombrero, poncho, and fake mustache. This is not only offensive but promotes a misconception and stereotype towards the culture. Additionally, stop bringing your maracas around – they don’t even derive from Mexican culture (StudyBreaks)!  
  • Donate, if you’re able to, to organizations that support the Latinx community. Here’s a list to get you started. 

Whenever celebrating a holiday outside of your culture, it is always important to do the research. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t participate in celebrating but rather celebrate appropriately. 



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