Cinco De Mayo mustaches and tequila: How the appropriation of other cultures’ festivals, celebrations and events dilute old traditions

By Maxine Velez

Cinco de Mayo is an occasion that many have been celebrating since grade school. With music, dancing, and festive colors, why would one not want to participate in something so exhilarating?
What many forget to do is to stop and think about the true meaning and history of Cinco de Mayo. How did this celebration that originally commemorated the Mexican Victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla make its way into the United States?

University of San Diego student Henley Doherty says that the American appropriation of others festivals and events speaks to a larger trend.

“I think that in America we like to take other countries’ celebrations and use them as an excuse to celebrate ourselves,” Doherty said.

Americans often do take celebrations and use them as an excuse to party, but this particular celebration has more depth as to the reason why it has evolved into such a prominent festivity in America, and not so much in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo serves as a celebration of the memory of the Battle of Puebla. The initial battle was sparked when Mexican President Benito Juárez defaulted on his debts to European governments.
In response to him defaulting Britain, Spain and France sent reinforcements to Mexico.

Eventually both Spain and Britain backed out, but France saw this as an opportunity to create an empire out of Mexico. France sent 6,000 French troops to the town of Puebla de Los Angeles, while Juárez had only 2,000 men.

On May 5, 1862 the French retreated and Mexico won the battle. This is the history behind Cinco de Mayo, but the cause came to America when Mexicans started immigrating to the U.S. Eventually around the 1960’s, Chicano activists used this celebration as a way to promote ethnic identity.

Mexican-Americans like others have struggled with assimilating into American culture while keeping their own heritage alive.

Chicanos could essentially connect to Mexicans defeating Europeans, because they themselves were fighting their own cultural battle with Americans, being people of European decent to uphold their heritage.

When Mexicans first came to America they felt pressured to be “American” and often hid their true identities. Chicano activists turned to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, because it brought culturally important aspects of Mexican heritage to history in schools. Things like Mexican food, traditions, and language were brought into classrooms.

As more Mexicans immigrated into the U.S, they celebrated with other Mexican-Americans. The occasion today isn’t celebrated in Mexico like it is in the United States, however.

In fact, for most Mexican citizens May 5th is a normal day in their everyday lives. Mexican-American USD student Robert Mackay enjoys the day because of the increased visibility it brings to his cultural heritage, and its positive effect on the Mexican economy.

“Cinco de Mayo is a chill holiday because people become aware of Mexican culture, but also they buy beer to celebrate so it boosts our economy,” Mackay said.

Robert is onto something when he says the celebration bolsters our economy. Corporations have taken this occasion and turned it a venue for potential profits.

According to the International Business Times Cinco de Mayo has become popular in the United States because “it’s also an opportunity for big business to reach out to the Latino consumer market, and make millions in the process.”

As we see here America has alternate agendas for Cinco de Mayo. This is not the first holiday or occasion America has turned into profits and partying, as this is the case for all holidays and celebrations in America.

We as students, parents, and community members cannot change the profits and partying, but what we can do is educate ourselves on the celebration and become an ally to the community.

Cinco de Mayo was brought to America for a purpose, the purpose of promoting Mexican heritage and culture, but somehow the true meaning of the celebration has been lost.

Keep this in mind the next time you celebrate next May 5th.