“So, what are we doing for Cinco de Mayo?”
I’m not Mexican, and neither are my college roommates, but no sooner had the question been asked that we made plans to throw back some margaritas at that great little Mexican place on Wisconsin Ave.
But what do we celebrate on Cinco de Mayo?
Not Mexican Independence Day. That’s September 16th.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican underdog victory over the French occupiers in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).
Although the battle was small and did not alter the final outcome of the war (the French captured Mexico City a year later), it did serve to strengthen the resistance movement and became a symbolic victory for the Mexican government.
While Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Mexico and is a source of nationalism and pride, it isn’t a drunk fest like it is in the United States.
The lack of consideration for Mexican heritage among college students bugs me like… muchísimo.
Thousands of young Americans in sombreros get smashed in the name of “Mexican Independence”–one excuse to “darty” (drunken, day-party).
As it turns out, yo no soy la única que tiene estos sentimientos.
Antony, a Mexican student and member of Georgetown University’s dance group Ballet Folklórico Mexicano that performed for President Obama at The White House last year, shared with me his take on how Americanos celebrate this holiday:
“It not only bothers me when people misattribute Cinco de Mayo as Mexican Independence, but also that it’s used as an opportunity for people (often times culturally insensitive students) to dress up and mock what they don’t know about Mexican culture. I remember a friend telling me of a sad situation at a house party where a mariachi band was hired. The artist was making money with tips, but was being openly mocked by drunk kids at the same time.”
This is not to say that celebrating Cinco de Mayo is wrong.
I’m always up for a party. Commemorating an underdog victory is definitely means for celebration.
However, the way students have been “celebrating” Cinco de Mayo is disturbing:
Getting inebriated via tequila shots, donning fake mustaches, and passing out in a poncho to “honor” a day one knows nothing about seems more disrespectful than it does celebratory. (The “Mexican-themed” Chi Omega sorority party at Penn State comes to mind).
As one student of Mexican descent framed it for me: this day is really special for some people who identify with their Mexican heritage. They hold it close to their hearts because the Battle of Puebla, although a small triumph, energized a nation and filled Mexicans with hope.
It’s rather disheartening that the meaning behind the day is drowned in alcohol and not properly recognized for what it is.
To all reading this: I encourage you to go out and celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but let it be in a way that honors those who went into battle with all the odds against them.
To this we should raise our glasses and toast, para México.
Washington, DC native and self-proclaimed Latina feminist Giuliana Cortese, is a senior at Georgetown University majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies and will relocate to Nashville, Tennessee for the next two years as a Teach for America corps member. When she isn’t writing, you can find her on a run, practicing yoga, museum hopping, or “thrifting.” Click here to read more about and connect with Giuliana.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo?