Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Today is Cinco de Mayo. Which means that all week there have been stories about college parties with kids dressed up in an array of offensive costumes and saying that it’s not a big deal. Saying they’re just having fun. I would bet that someone even says something about freedom of speech or expression, because that’s where this country is right now. But, just to be clear, I want them to wear less offensive outfits, not change the first amendment.

Let’s start with the obvious question: Can you celebrate a holiday that is not ‘yours’ (in terms of religion, ethnicity, etc.) and not have it be offensive? I’m sure there are a range of opinions on this, but I would say yes. The example that I think works best for this thought experiment is a non-Jew celebrating Passover. A lot of people are familiar enough with Passover that it doesn’t require extensive explanation and people also understand that it is a serious and important holiday. If a non-Jew wanted to celebrate Passover, they certainly could. (Especially since the story is in the Old Testament, which both Christians and Jews use, but that’s a whole different conversation.) There are plenty of books and guides out there that are meant to help those who are not strict observers. If someone felt so inclined, I could imagine a Passover guided by one of those books (or websites) and executed in a way that is truthful to the true intent of the holiday.

Hopefully that example makes it pretty clear where these so called Cinco de Mayo celebrations go off the rails. These are not gatherings with the intention of the actual holiday at heart. These are not gatherings even with the intention of learning about the holiday. These gatherings emphasize the worst stereotypes about this group and their holidays. This year I’ve read about students dressed up like ICE agents, cleaning staff or other characterizations of what white students think Mexicans look like or what the Mexican experience in the United State is.

If you’re going to try to argue that some Mexicans are cleaning staff or illegals that need to be deported by ICE, then I think you need to really think about what you just said. First, there is nothing wrong with being a member of a cleaning staff or any other job that collegiate students automatically think is below them. Stigmatizing people for their job is classist and wrong, so just don’t do it. Also, as with any big group, there are people who will be many different things. They will have different jobs and cultural practices and familial make-up and many more. The problem is when we focus on one aspect that is true about some people and force it on the rest of the group. Did Mexicans at some point wear sombreros? I don’t know for sure, but I would assume yes. That doesn’t mean that every present day Mexican wears a sombrero. Remember, this is a huge group of people.

Finally, making fun of someone’s immigration status, especially under this administration, is not a joke. Immigration status can tear people’s lives apart. Children come home and their parents aren’t there. Families lose their main source of income. People get sent back to dangerous countries. Many more people live in constant fear of these or many other potential situations. This is a circumstance in which we should have compassion. These people didn’t come here to rape or sell drugs, they came here for a better life. A safer life. To pretend otherwise is to skew the facts and the give in to this administration’s fear mongering. So, this Cinco de Mayo, if you want to celebrate, maybe try finding someone who genuinely celebrates it as part of their culture. Maybe you’ll actually learn something.