Understand the Holiday’s Historical Background
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the Mexican army over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War from 1861-1867. The holiday is minor in Mexico, but Cinco de Mayo has become a day of cultural celebration with parades, music performances, and street festivals, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. In the US, the holiday should be about Mexican-Americans coming together and celebrating their shared heritage – not a bunch of college kids taking tequila shots.
Pro Tip: If you’re calling it Cinco De Drinko, you’re doing it wrong.
Remember: Culture is Not a Costume
Wearing a sombrero and shaking maracas in order to make Mexican culture into a joke is disrespectful. This Cinco de Mayo, refrain from wearing ponchos and sombreros in order to “look Mexican.” Wearing these costumes only perpetuates stereotypes and caricatures of Mexican culture, and it’s also a way of exerting power and privilege over a group that has faced oppression for centuries in America. On a day when traditional Mexican performances and parades are taking place in your community, it’s a straight-up mockery of someone’s heritage. You can wear a costume for a night, but Mexican-Americans will live with the stigma forever.
Don’t Throw a Racist Party
Cultural appropriation isn’t cool, and using stereotypes as a party theme is down-right offensive. Don’t be like the sorority from Penn State who threw an offensive Mexican-themed party where students held signs saying “will mow lawn for week” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.” If you’re unsure whether or not your party is racist, ask yourself one question: is it rooted in an authentic and accurate celebration of Mexican culture and the historical holiday of Cinco de Mayo – or is it rooted in offensive stereotypes and generalizations about those things?
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday created to celebrate Mexican culture, not continue to oppress it with parties and costumes. If you have friends planning their racist bash of the year, discourage them or boycott the tacky affairs altogether. Instead, celebrate Cinco de Mayo by learning about Mexican culture or attending a traditional parade or festival.