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