The popular Americanized holiday Cinco de Mayo often results in the misrepresentation of Mexican culture. Many people do not understand the history of Cinco de Mayo and the reason behind the celebration on this specific date. In order to promote the knowledgeable celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the Latina Student Association (LSA), a St. Kate’s club that acts to bring about awareness of the Latina culture, would like to provide some historical and cultural context.
Cinco de Mayo is known in Puebla, Mexico as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla), which happened on May 5, 1862. Because Mexico had foreign debt with France, the French wanted to occupy Puebla, which turned out to be unsuccessful. At the time, the French army was considered to be one of the greatest military forces in the world.
Mexico was the underdog during this battle against the French, as the Mexican army was outnumbered 4,500 to 6,040. The reason why this was such an important victory (and why Cinco de Mayo is a celebratory holiday) is because the underdog (Mexico) defeated the European invasion. The Battle of Puebla was an inspirational event for wartime in Mexico because it provided an amazing revelation to the rest of the world: the French could be beaten.
On May 9, 1862, the President of Mexico declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would become a national holiday. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated in the state of Puebla, and the celebration involves attending church, performing reenactments of the battle, and attending military parades. The rest of Mexico does not feel that they should celebrate because it was Puebla’s win—not everyone else’s.
So why do Mexicans and Mexican-Americans “overreact” when Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo? To put it simply, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday belonging to Mexico, not the United States.
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo was initially interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, but less of that has been seen due to misinformation and cultural misconceptions. Mexican and Mexican-Americans have all the right to celebrate Cinco de Mayo because they understand the history and suffering of their people during European invasion.
In some communities, like West St. Paul, Cinco de Mayo celebrations are put on by the Latino community, which makes it acceptable to celebrate the holiday. In West St. Paul, specifically, the celebration is sponsored by the Saint Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, so there is a cultural aspect to Cinco de Mayo instead of misconceptions. Within this Cinco de Mayo festival, which took place on May 2, there are parades with floats that portray a colorful aspect of Mexican culture, including traditional dances and mariachis. This festival does not focus on drinking alcohol or eating only tacos—instead, there is a celebration of the Mexican culture and people. The festival acknowledges how influential Mexican culture is in the United States.
To encourage understanding and prevent cultural appropriation, LSA has chosen to rebrand Cinco de Mayo as “Cinco de Mayo Awareness Day.” This eliminates the offensive part of the holiday and incorporates the educational opportunities into the celebration of the holiday. During this Cinco de Mayo Awareness Day, take the opportunity to learn about Cinco de Mayo and expand your knowledge on what is actually being celebrated.
Though Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, it can be celebrated by anyone who is willing to understand its history and cultural significance. Therefore, let’s come together to enjoy and become knowledgeable about this day.