Every year on May 5, Americans “celebrate” Cinco de Mayo which in Hispanic culture is the day that Mexico won against the French. However, “celebrate” isn’t the correct term for it. It is called cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is when one adopts elements of a minority culture, such as practices or symbols, often in a disrespectful manner, without understanding the original culture or context.
For example, many have stereotypical representations of people of color, such as “blackface” and “speedy gonzales” with the fake mustaches and sombreros. Some argue that this is what occurs on Cinco de Mayo here in America.
For those who don’t know, Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The French Empire invaded Mexico in the Franco-Mexican war, but the city of Puebla (and its army) blocked the French on their way to the capital.
A lot of Americans don’t understand what this day means to Mexico. Too many mistake it for Mexican Independence day, which was actually on Sept. 16, 1810. In fact, it was first celebrated in the U.S., but not in Mexico until the 1930s-1950s.
Some argue the Battle of Pueblo also affected the U.S. Civil War, since part of the French’s reasoning for the invasion was to curb U.S. influence on the continent (among various other reasons), and rumors of the time suggested the French might recognize the Confederate states of America.
Ultimately, Mexico’s temporary victory in Puebla inspired Union soldiers of the U.S. Civil War, who started the first Cinco de Mayo festivals in Southern California in 1863. The original purpose of the celebration was to show solidarity with Mexican resistance to french imperialist rule.
In the ’70s and ’80s the festivals reached a new extreme, when U.S. beer and alcohol companies started to exploit the holiday for profit. This included advertising by promoting the racial stereotype that every Mexican drinks a lot of tequila.
To be clear, there are people in Mexico who do celebrate Cinco de Mayo, particularly in the city of Puebla and some do celebrate with the “stereotypes” of sombreros and tequila.
However, there is no real reason for white Americans to wear fake mustaches and sombreros. Sometimes white Americans go further to mock and debase Hispanic culture, in the same way some white Americans do through the use of blackface.
Then there are those who go even further, such as the students in 2010 who wore T-shirts with american flags on them, on Cinco de Mayo, at a school where things were tense between Americans and Mexican-Americans.
This was an action said to be in extremely poor taste and timing due to “ongoing racial tension and gang violence within the school” including a nearly violent situation during the previous year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration over hecklers with an American flag.
Ultimately, this is an issue of the insensitivity of how Americans perceive and portray people and their cultures. It also is an example of what can sometimes be a preamble to harassment, racism or even violence.
So remember, this year for Cinco de Mayo, please be sensitive and please be respectful.