It’s Cinco de Mayo: Put Down the Sombrero and Actually Support the Latinx Community

By: Cristina Aguilar

It’s Cinco de Mayo and in spite of the fact that a bunch of people have decided it is a cause to celebrate most of them don’t even know what that means. Cinco de Mayo — or the fifth of May — is a holiday commemorating the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. It is not “Mexican Independence Day” as I have heard people call it and honestly is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico. But for some reason here in the United States, it has evolved into a day to get drunk and wear sombreros.

We all like an occasion to get together with friends and enjoy a happy hour, but I see people wearing clothing that is mean to be or is from Mexico, wearing fake mustaches or adopting a joking accent. This is not good natured celebration. It is making fun of a community and a culture. That’s not festive. That’s racist.

If you want to eat a taco or drink some tequila, have at it. But don’t do so while reinforcing a host of damaging stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican culture. Don’t wear a costume or speak with a fake accent or make up pretend Spanish words. You don’t need an excuse to get together with friends. Just invite people out without the rest of it! Skip the cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is when someone uses and in some cases makes fun of the elements of a culture that they do not belong to or in many instances even understand. We see it with the wearing of tribal headdresses by non-Native people around Thanksgiving or white people with dreadlocks and also a whole host of bad ideas that we will see today — just look around.

Cultural appropriation can seem to make another person’s culture seem strange or exotic or it can joke about things that are important and have real meaning. It is VERY different from appreciating a culture. It has little to do with trying to understand different cultures and typically involves people exploiting the culture of a less privileged or marginalized group — often with little understanding of the history, experience and traditions of that group.

So how about re-thinking your celebration? How about actually reading up on Mexican history? And if you want Mexican food, try to find a good non-chain restaurant owned by people actually from Mexico. And in today’s harsh, anti-immigrant climate how about using the 5th of May — or really any day — to speak out and make it clear that you oppose racist laws and anti-immigrant policies that target Mexicans and other Latino people. We have a presidential administration pushing hateful rhetoric and talking about building walls instead of fixing a broken immigration system that tears families apart and forces many people in our community live in fear.

How about in addition to spending money on margaritas that you support an organization who is working for immigrant justice? I would boldly suggest the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) — two groups I am proud to work with. And mark your calendars and consider celebrating 16 de Septiembre, the actual Mexican Independence Day.