Cinco de Mayo is about more than margaritas and som-BRAY-roes (you know sombrero is just the Spanish word for hat, right?). Holidays that reduce cultures to stereotypes and alcoholic drinks have never seemed that fun to me, but I am especially upset by the way Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo because so few people know what the holiday commemorates.
On 5 May 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French army in battle. It was a David-and-Goliath victory because the French troops were better prepared and had superior equipment. At the time, the U.S. government feared that if France defeated Mexico, the French military would advance to the U.S. and help the Confederate army in the Civil War, so their defeat was cause for celebration in the States. The U.S. government was grateful to Mexico for stopping the French army and, in effect, protecting the U.S.
I heard someone lamenting that people celebrate Cinco de Mayo by going to trendy restaurants and bars that serve “Mexican-inspired” food but are owned by non-Mexicans. She encouraged her friends to patronize Mexican-owned businesses instead, but I think this holiday should be about much more. Currently much of the conversation around migration from the Global South to the United States centers on immigrants as undeserving people who come to take jobs, education, and benefits from U.S.-born people who ‘deserve’ it. Even conversations about amnesty and compassion focus on extending a helping hand to people in need instead of recognizing the myriad ways we are connected.
This year, on the fifth of May, in addition to eating tacos, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on interdependence, what it means to be good neighbors, and how you can put up a fence to keep people out, but you’ll never be able to erase our shared history.