a-cinco-de-mayo-letter-from-one-mexicana-vivala
photo: Ymijan Baftijari, Vivala/Marissa Pina, Vivala

Margarita specials at restaurants, party favors at stores, and the endless “Cinco de Drinko” statuses across social media can only mean one thing: It’s Cinco de Mayo in America. Many blindly celebrate this day because they think it’s Mexico’s Independence Day, and I’m here to — fortunately/unfortunately — burst your bubble. This day is more of an American holiday than it is a Mexican one, and it brings out a lot of nasty stereotypes. I’m not here to demonize your cravings for taco specials and tequila drinks on this day, but hear me out.

As a Mexican-Albanian-American woman who is trying to learn more about her cultures, Cinco de Mayo was a topic of interest to me. I raised my eyebrow the first time my mom told me it’s not really celebrated in Mexico since it commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla  — I was 11 years old at the time. The true day for parades, festivals, and parties happens on September 16 — the real Mexican Independence Day. My mom armed me with this information, and it was up to me to to do my due diligence and pass it along to others who might also wonder why Americans party it up so hard five days into the month of May.

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But I will admit that I didn't put this into play while in college and went on to celebrate the holiday ignorantly. I saw people wearing serapes, huge sombreros, and fake mustaches as they poured tequila down each other’s throats.

I said nothing, I did nothing, and I participated in the chaos (sans getting “dressed up”). Don’t be like me, and definitely don’t be like them.

Please take this as a plea to navigate through this day in a smarter manner. Educate yourself on Mexico’s history if you do want to partake in the festivities. Understand that the so-called holiday has become interwoven in popular culture throughout the U.S. but is not an accurate representation of how Mexican citizens observe this day. 

Even though it has become highly commercialized, this day still holds historical and cultural significance and it shouldn't be overlooked. 

If I sound like a broken record right now, it’s because I’m trying to drive a point home: Learn the history and be cognizant of how Americans reclaimed it to add it to their list of party days.

The second major, and hopefully obvious, call out that I will make is to not play into the stereotypes that major stores try to sell you on. 

If you’re mocking Mexican culture by wearing a serape or a fake mustache, please reevaluate your choices and see how that is problematic. Reducing Mexicans as drunks who spend the day in oversized sombreros is ill-mannered and will make you look like an idiot. 

Disrespecting the people to which this holiday belongs to is foolish and shouldn’t be tolerated. If you participate in dressing up with the costume, you are part of the problem — if your friends are doing this and you don’t call them out, you’re still part of the problem.

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I am human and understand that you are too. Who am I to tell you what to do? 

This holiday has been packaged and sold to us as a fun way to get together with your friends and savor the Mexican food and drinks into the wee hours of the night. You have every right to go out and enjoy yourself, but be #woke about the realities behind it. 

Go out and support your local taqueria — enjoy your meal at a place that is run by Mexicans and provides jobs for other Latinos in the community. Catch up on the latest happenings with immigration. Arm yourselves with knowledge about this culture’s past and present history. Recognize who this day is for and be mindful of your language.

Finally, I'm not the first to write about this and probably won't be the last. Mexican journalist Marcela Garcia wrote about "Cinco to Drinko" as it often referred to in 2006 for The Boston Globe, "I feel the urge to set the record straight: there is much more to Cinco de Mayo - and my home country - than Dos Equis and sombreros one day of the year." We hear you, Garcia. 

I’m going to try to practice this mentality and I hope you will too.