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Daniel Cubias Headshot

Does Anybody Know What Cinco de Mayo Is All About?

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I have one simple question for all the white Americans out there: What is the significance of Cinco de Mayo? I mean, what historical event does this day commemorate besides the advent of the two-for-one margarita special?

I do not mean this to be bitchy or accusatory. I may be playing a subtle game of racial gotcha, it's true, but what's wrong with that?

To be fair, I myself (a Latino) never heard of Cinco de Mayo until I was a teenager, which was perhaps a decade before mainstream America started celebrating diversity in sloppy, albeit sincere fashion. This eagerness to let other ethnic groups know that they are almost, very nearly American has lead to people wishing me a "Happy Independence Day" months before July 4. It's sort of like those school holiday programs, where the Jewish kids get one verse of "The Dreidel Song" in the midst of nineteen Christmas carols.

Again, I appreciate the effort. But for starters, I am not Mexican (Cinco de Mayo is, strictly speaking, only relevant to Mexico). Second, May 5 is not Mexican Independence Day (that would be September 16). And lastly, one listen to my flat, Midwestern accent should let you know that any Latin American holiday has about as much significance to my life as Oktoberfest does to a sixth-generation descendant of German immigrants... actually, maybe even less, because Oktoberfest features beer, which is most tasty.

In fact, many Hispanics who are not of Mexican descent dislike Cinco de Mayo. This animosity comes from the perception in American society that Mexico is the alpha and omega of Latino culture. The implication is that homelands like Peru or Honduras or Colombia have no history of their own. Of course, this whole Latino intercultural insurgence will be the subject of another post.

Personally, my chief memory of Cinco de Mayo is from 1998, when a ditzy California blonde broadsided my brand-new car. I don't know why I continue to associate the day with this event, but now it's stuck in my head... Damn.

In any case, Cinco de Mayo will not find me marking the day in any special manner, nor using it to justify guzzling egregious amounts of alcohol. It's just another evening to me, thank you very much.

But I do not want to leave you without concrete information (news you can use, as it were) in this post, particularly if it will help you connect with that cute girl at the end of the bar. So here are some facts about the significance of Cinco de Mayo.

It commemorates the Mexican army's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. The conflict had nothing to do with independence, because Mexico had been a sovereign nation for almost a half century at that point. It was more about national pride and standing up to imperialist Europeans. I guess it's sort of like Americans celebrating the Battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812, but perhaps a historian would like to correct me on that one.

Regardless, the holiday is likely more popular among Chicanos in the United States than it is in Mexico. And it's certainly far removed from its origins among the American majority culture, which as I've stated, sees it as an opportunity to get hammered.

So is this cultural appropriation bordering on disrespect? Or is a harmless excuse to party down? As a bonus question, if everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day (another ethnic-based celebration featuring lots of alcohol), is everyone Mexican on Cinco de Mayo?

Feel free to debate these points between ordering rounds of tequila for that special someone. You can thank me later for the icebreaker.

Around the Web

Cinco de Mayo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mexico Online Cinco de Mayo History and Celebration - Battle Of ...