Decolonizing Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo has been considered a “special” holiday for a long time and is most often confused with Mexican Independence Day. For me, growing up Hispanic in the United States meant seeing people outside of my culture appropriate this holiday. They use the day as an excuse to buy flimsy sombreros, gabanes, and zarapes from stores like Party City. This “special” holiday has time and time again been used as an excuse to have a barbecue at home, or if you’re feeling a little frisky, you could make your own version of the Taco Bell crunchy tacos and call it “an authentic Mexican experience.” What people don’t know is that there’s more to this day than meets the eye.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, a fight between the French and Mexican forces that took place in May of 1862. Although this small win didn’t guarantee Mexico any success in the first Franco-Mexican war, it did become a milestone and a source of pride. The Mexican forces at the time weren’t good, and they definitely weren’t any better than the French forces. However, it is this fact alone that made their win even more meaningful. Mexico didn’t have the numbers or the weaponry. All they had was a group of 2,000 loyal men, who in the end, won against a group of nearly 7,000 French soldiers.
With that being said, if you know anything about Mexico’s history, then you should know that Mexico and its citizens have been continuously oppressed, which makes wins like the Battle of Puebla much more meaningful. It’s the source of pride for a lot of us Mexicans. It’s the source of pride for people like my parents who came to the U.S. for a better life and continue to fight for a better future. For my parents and I, Cinco de Mayo is evidence that our people and our culture cannot and will not ever be silenced or shut down. Cinco de Mayo is much more than just a day for tacos and micheladas.
Although Cinco de Mayo isn’t celebrated, it is an honored day. This in turn does not mean that honoring equals celebrating. Honoring the day simply means that they acknowledge the events of the past. Though many regions of Mexico honor the Battle of Puebla by hosting military parades and recreations of the battle, the day is still worked, especially since it is not a federal holiday. My parents, having been born and raised in Michoacan and Guanajuato, remember participating in small parades, civil acts, and ceremonies that honor the battle and the Mexican flag, but that’s pretty much all that would happen in regards to Cinco de Mayo.
The “celebration” of Cinco de Mayo is a western idea. An idea used to sell the day through beer and liquor specials, food truck specials that offer you two tacos for the price of one, and decoration specials that let you buy cheap zarapes and hot sauce bottles with a hot pepper in a mustache as a logo. I can say for certain that my family and I were, and still are, appalled by the ignorance of the people on the other side of the border. I assure you that if you were to walk into a store that is fully decked out in Cinco de Mayo decorations, and asked the people who decorated what the significance of this day is, chances are that they won’t give you an answer and will most likely stare at you with a blank expression.
So now that you know its value, meaning, and history, why is it that the people on the other side of the border who don’t know its history still deem it fit to celebrate? If the people whose culture this is a part of don’t celebrate it, then why are people outside of this culture making it theirs to celebrate?
Food for thought, no?