From Our Readers

How To Not Be Offensive On Cinco de Mayo

Skip the drinks and go to a parade. (Shutterstock)

On a day that’s often associated with drink specials and parties, Hello Giggles reader Lucy Vernasco took this opportunity to share a more culturally sensitive take on Cinco de Mayo. “I’m offended by racism on Cinco de Mayo, because it’s been very normalized in our society, especially on college campuses,” Lucy tells us. “People don’t usually think about how it could be wrong. We all have vivid cultural backgrounds that should be celebrated, not stereotyped.” Here’s her primer on understanding the real meaning behind Cinco de Mayo.

Step 1: Know the Historical Background of the Holiday

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the Mexican army over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War from 1861-1867. The holiday is minor in Mexico, but Cinco de Mayo has become a day of cultural celebration with parades, music performances, and street festivals, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. Cinco de Mayo is not “Cinco de Drinko.” Hold off on the tequila shots, margaritas, and exerting privilege.

Step 2: Know That Culture is Not a Costume

Culture isn’t a costume, and wearing a sombrero and shaking maracas isn’t respecting any culture. This Cinco de Mayo, refrain from wearing ponchos and sombreros. Wearing these costumes only perpetuates stereotypes and caricatures of Mexican culture. Wearing these offensive costumes is a way of exerting power and privilege over a group because the costume wearers have not gone through the historical oppression Mexican-Americans have.

Step 3: Do Not Throw a Mexican-Themed Party

Cultural appropriation isn’t cool. Using stereotypes as a party theme is down-right offensive. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday created to celebrate Mexican culture, not to continue to oppress it with Mexican-themed parties and costumes that portray the holiday in a flagrant or offensive way. The problem is widespread, especially on college campuses, and it’s an issue that’s only now gaining some attention. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo by learning about Mexican culture, attending a traditional parade, or seeing performers. Learning more about a vibrant culture is much more exciting and respectful than attending a party you won’t remember the next day.

Lucy Vernasco is a cat-loving, feminist, activist, and life-long learner currently based in Urbana, Illinois. After graduating from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in May 2014, Lucy will become an intern for Bitch Magazine. You can tweet her at @lucevern 

  • Candy Lutz Rosenbaum

    I have to blame the local family owned authentic Mexican restaurants for perpetuating Americans’ lack of knowledge of this day. I mean, they are the ones hiring the guy in the big sombrero and poncho to stand outside and hold the big sign that says “Cinco de Mayo special! half off Margaritas!” I can understand that people go too far and can be racially offensive, but I see no harm in celebrating it with a few good tequila drinks and some tasty guacamole :)

    • Liz

      When we only teach our children this aspect of Mexico, we miss a great opportunity to teach the truth.

  • Lane Marie

    LOL! the true story is that the holiday was made famous by a beer commercial…so in fact it was created for drinking! Most holidays are created to get money out of you.

  • Gaby Ash

    It’s just a bit of fun, don’t make people feel bad for having a little fun. There’s no harm in celebrating this holiday! There are worse things in the world to have racial stereotypes about. My family lives in Mexico and I frequently visit, especially on 5 de mayo, and in Mexico City everyone is celebrating wearing every outfit possible. So using stereotypes as a party theme is offensive? Nah, not really, because it’s only for a party. How about Hawaiian parties and such? They love the stereotypes in Mexico, because ponchos and sombreros sell to tourists like mad

  • Anthony Reyes

    That´s true. In mexico 5 de mayo is a minor, a VERY minor celebration, u dont see parades or parties or anything, we´re proud of the victory in those battles but we know that eventually we lost the war, and lived (again) subyugated to a foreign invader, brought to us thanks in part to many conservative traitors.
    If u want REAL party september FIFTEEN is the day, although many of us know that mexico is independent just in paper…
    And yes to a real mexican is very offensive and quite STUPID the whole sombrero and maracas thing, although we appreciate the good intentions..

  • Jorge Gomez

    Like Gaby Ash, I was raised in Mexico to a Mexican family and although the holiday is minor, it’s still a bank holiday. And to those who think a sombrero and poncho is insulting and racist, I invite you to search for YouTube videos on Mexico National Team soccer games from the World Cup (as an example). Guess what? The poncho, sombrero and luchador masks are staples in what Mexican fans wear to show national pride on an international stage.

    Thinking 5 de mayo is Mexican Independence (and not The Battle of Puebla) is factually inaccurate but not racist. As for sombreros and ponchos I welcome those who are “offended” to gain perspective and consider what those symbols mean to Mexicans. Mexico is a proud nation with a colorful history and full of wonderful symbols that both Mexicans in the country or abroad love to celebrate and share with others.

    • Liz

      It is okay for those of Mexican heritage to wear sombreros and ponchos. However, when others wear them, it is called misappropriation. It is the same when someone who is not a native American wears a headdress.

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