Growing up in the United States, I’ve always experienced a lot of festivities surrounding my May 5th birthday. Regardless of my location, be it East or West coast, my work and school would often have Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and local restaurants and bars would host festivities as well. I know … I Ioved it! This year’s work-related festivities include a party complete with fresh salsa, guacamole, sangria, and even a piñata! I admit, sometimes I feel a bit special with all the extraneous fun activities happening on my birthday. After a while I learned that this cultural tradition is not always so mindfully used.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates a victory of the Mexican Army in 1862 against French forces in the state of Puebla. Historians agree that Mexicans and Latinos living in California at the time of the American Civil War first commemorated the day in opposition to French occupation in Mexico. Interestingly, modern U.S. popular culture often mislabels it as Mexico’s Independence Day! However, Cinco de Mayo actually isn’t a national holiday. It’s only celebrated in the state of Puebla. Quite a contrast to it’s widespread recognition in the United States!
As fun as it is having festivities in the United States on Cinco de Mayo, I question our intentions with celebrating another culture’s holiday. As with holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, I often see it as an excuse for people to consume mass quantities of alcohol, make fools of themselves in public, and even get DUIs. What’s worse, U.S. companies seem to capitalize on this holiday in an effort to make easy sales. Little of the celebration feels like a true homage to cultural heritage. I fully promote celebrating Mexican heritage and identity, but I honestly do not see that as an integral part of many U.S. festivities on cinco de Mayo.
What can be done about this attitude? As I’ve mentioned, schools often organize Cinco de Mayo events. Perhaps a greater effort can be made to explore the history surrounding the event. Schools and organizations could create events that foster dialogue as well, inviting individuals and historians of Mexican heritage to speak and entertain questions. On an individual level, we can be more self-aware. What exactly are we celebrating? Why is it important and worth commemorating? Through cross-cultural dialogue, research, and self-reflection we can become more thoughtful, globally conscious individuals, which enhances our appreciation of celebrations all the more!
About the Author: Kate Kirk works at the Language Institute at Georgia Tech and is one of the Melibee team members. In the past she has worked in international education and student services across the US. She is a perpetual learner and enjoys elective studies in various subjects including global education, music, and philosophy.