5 Ways to Honor Mexico's Heritage on Cinco de Mayo (Hint: Skip the Sombreros)
First of all, May 5 isn't even Mexico's Independence Day.
Contrary to popular belief, today is not actually Mexico’s Independence Day — that’s September 16. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla when a much smaller and less-equipped Mexican army defeated French forces on May 5, 1862.
And the holiday “is virtually ignored in Mexico," a 2007 UCLA Newsroom article noted.
But in the United States — where the celebration has been adopted — Cinco de Mayo has taken on a life of its own.
Read More: 8 Myths about Cinco de Mayo put to the test
It grew in popularity in the 1980s when beer companies began to promote and capitalize on the celebration, eventually muffling the historic meaning of the day, and replacing it with a grab-bag of sometimes offensive cultural signifiers. Today, more often than not, revelers mark Cinco de Mayo with parties, mariachi music, and tacky, taco-filled festivities.
Over the years, the media has encouraged the misrepresentation. During a 2014 segment of MSNBC’s Way Too Early program, correspondent Louis Burgdorf, appeared on screen with a sombrero, shaking a maraca, and taking swigs of faux tequila, calling it “go-go juice.”
In 2015, online clothing store Nylon began selling a Cinco de Mayo-themed collection of t-shirts with slogans that read “More Tequila,” “Tequila Helps,” and “Vatos Locos” (which translates to “Crazy Guys”). They apologized and retracted the shirts after Latin news outlet, Remezcla, called them out.
This year, at a Baylor University in Texas, students reportedly showed up dressed as maids and construction workers to a fraternity themed party advertised as “Drinko de Mayo” and “Cinco de Drinko.”
And now that’s an even darker element to the day.
According to ABC News, many Mexican Americans are reluctant to take part in the celebration this year over fear of possible deportation. In Philadelphia, a Cinco de Mayo celebration was scrapped after organizers deemed turnout would drop over concerns of immigration raids.
In the US, Cinco de Mayo is supposedly about celebrating Mexican heritage and culture — so let’s do that.
This year, instead of dropping in on a maraca margarita special happy hour or sporting an oversized sombrero and ungroomed, fake mustache, here are some alternative and authentic ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo:
Support Authentic Mexican Businesses
For those tamales or chilaquiles, find a local, Mexican family-run grocery store or restaurant. No — Chipotle, Qdoba, and Baja Fresh don’t count.
Donate to Organizations Fighting For Immigrant Rights
It’s a good day to support immigrants’ rights, especially those most marginalized by legal status, race, and class. Check out Mariposas Sin Fronteras, the Immigrant Defense Project, Border of Angels, MALDEF, CHIRLA, or countless others to engage in social practices that make a difference.
Stand Up For Mexican American Communities and Volunteer
Whether you’re a lawyer or an everyday citizen, your skills and help are needed! Mentoring families, setting up homes, providing legal support, and teaching are all integral parts of defending immigrants’ rights.
Take the Time to Learn More About Our Neighbors
Test out what you know about our friends across the border. Now’s your chance to talk to Mexican Americans and learn about the history of Cinco de Mayo and a country rich with its own diversity.
Take part in Mexican cuisine, culture, and music by finding a local celebration hosted by Latin organizers! Avoid party stores, serapes, and “Cinco de Drinko” invites at all costs.