Make Cinco de Mayo Great Again

Glenn Bell, founder of Taco Bell (not a Mexican) once said, “I didn’t invent the taco, but I believe I made it better.”

This morning when I woke up, I opened up my Instagram feed like I always do (great morning routine I know, but you do it too!) and the first post I saw was from an Instagram “influencer” saying she would be holding a Cinco de Mayo party today. As I scrolled down my feed, I saw various posts about tacos and tequila, outfits with embroidery and bright colors, and sales from various stores all celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

On Facebook, I saw the same thing. Friends wishing other friends a happy Cinco de Mayo, warning them not to drink and drive, and memes about tacos.

In my email: “Taco ‘bout a sale!” “You’ve ‘guac’ to shop this sale!” “Cinco ways to celebrate.”

I thought to myself, “Why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the US?” I know what Cinco de Mayo commemorates, but after living in Mexico for two Cinco de Mayo’s and experiencing for myself that it isn’t celebrated the same way there as it is here, I wondered what started it all. I looked it up quickly and found (from Wikipedia, mind you) that it’s considered a day of “celebration of Mexican-American culture.”

That got me pretty fired up. I love Mexico with all of my heart. I don’t pretend to understand what it means or how it feels to be a Mexican or a Mexican-American, but I enjoyed every minute I lived there. I fell in love with the people and the food and the culture. So let me help you understand Cinco de Mayo from a gringa’s perspective. As you’ve probably heard by now, Cinco de Mayo means May 5, and is a commemoration of a Mexican military victory over the invading French in 1862. (That’s a very simplified version of the story, but my point is that it’s not Mexico’s 4th of July.)

Professor David Hayes-Bautista of UCLA studied Cinco de Mayo and its history in the US and came to the conclusion that it was intertwined with the Civil War. He said in an interview with CNN, “I’m seeing how in the minds of the Spanish-reading public in California that they were basically looking at one war with two fronts, one against the Confederacy in the east and the other against the French in the south.” He further explained that Latinos in the US felt that the Union army and the Mexican army were both defending freedom and democracy. They saw that the Cinco de Mayo battle was a huge victory for democracy and started to celebrate the day as such.

Hayes-Bautista explains that the day evolved to become more symbolic, a sort of underdog story. Then it became an embodiment of the ties between the US and Mexico in World War II, and then in the 60’s and 70’s a symbol of Chicano power. I read many differing theories on the subject but this seemed the most complete and well thought out. Most articles I read agreed that in the 1980's Cinco de Mayo became commercialized by beverage companies.

So that brings us to today. May 5, 2017. And it brings me back to the Wikipedia article. If it’s a celebration of Mexican-American culture, why do I only see things about sales, tequila, and 79 cent hard shell tacos?

Let me be more clear about what exactly bothers me about this “celebration of Mexican-American culture.” Where were these taco and tequila lovers when our president said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

This quote never fails to get me annoyed. “Some” aren’t good people because MOST are good people. The bad ones are the exceptions, not the rule. Mexican-Americans have made countless contributions to our nation, big and small. There are bad people all around the world and being a criminal is not dependent on nationality.

So what’s my point here? If we’re going to celebrate Mexico, let’s do it the right way. What is the right way? Here are my suggestions!

  • Learn about Mexico’s history and the history of US-Mexico relations.
  • Learn about immigration and what it takes to immigrate here legally (it’s a lot more than you probably think- it’s virtually impossible for some.)
  • Listen to Mexican music. I realize not everyone is as into corridos and rancheras as I am (which are what you probably think of when you think of Mexican music) so here are some Mexican artists from other genres:
  1. Carla Morrison. From Tecate, Baja California (just across the border from California) She recently did a collab with Macklemore, which is good, but my favorite by her is “Hasta la piel.”
  2. Leon Larregui- Native of Mexico City. My favorite by him is “Locos”
  3. Natalia Lafourcade- Also a native of Mexico City. Her voice is crazy beautiful! My current favorite by her is “Tu si sabes quererme.”
  • Try a Mexican food you’ve never tried before. I highly recommend trying pozole, huaraches, or chilaquiles.
  • Go latin dancing. I promise you will have fun (if you like to dance or kind of like to dance) and you’ll meet lots of people.
  • Talk to a Mexican immigrant about their experience immigrating to the US. Bonus points if you find one who came here “illegally.”
  • Learn some Spanish or brush up on your Spanish. Try simple questions and answers like “where are you from?” or “what is your name?”

I hope that celebrating Cinco de Mayo this way can change the way Mexican immigrants are viewed and treated. It’s hard sometimes when we don’t understand each other because we have different languages, cultures, and customs. I promise you that there is so much more to love about Mexico than just tequila and tacos. And I promise you that there is value in understanding each other. Let’s make next year’s Cinco de Mayo a real celebration of Mexican-American culture. And if we have a holiday dedicated to celebrating their culture, let’s try standing up for them every day of the year.

Martinez, Michael. “Cinco De Mayo a Mexican Import? No, It’s as American as July 4, Prof Says.” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 May 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Arellano, Gustavo. “The Great Taco Robbery.” Inland Empire Weekly. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 05 May 2017.