Ah, Cinco de Mayo. Perhaps one of this nation’s favorite holidays.
How can one not get into the spirit of the holiday?
The margaritas with a delicious salted rim and little umbrella keep flowing. There’s tacos — an obvious food choice — along with some nachos and salsa. Throw on a sombrero to keep it festive, too.
The U.S.’s fascination with Cinco de Mayo has always boggled my mind. I love the passion each year as Americans celebrate the Mexican holiday with Coronas and margs. It feels like they’re celebrating my culture, which is always welcomed.
However, guys, I should probably break it to you … Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence day.
Growing up in a Mexican household we had never celebrated Cinco de Mayo. Although it may be an important date — the holiday celebrates Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla against France — it’s not Mexico’s independence day.
In fact, Mexico’s Independence Day is Sept. 16, 1810. Cinco de Mayo happened nearly 50 years after that.
It was always an awkward situation when my teachers growing up would ask: “And what do you and your family do for Cinco de Mayo, Mexico’s independence day?”
The question first popped up in elementary. Then curiosity, and pure confusion, hit me. We’re proud Mexicans, right? So why didn’t we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, since my teacher said it was Mexico’s independence day? Asking my parents, they were confused too.
“Well, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day,” they said. The holiday isn’t even really celebrated throughout Mexico, my parents said, except for the place where the battle was, Puebla. (Note: Cinco de Mayo is being celebrated more now in the country, but wasn’t when they were growing up nor at the time I asked.)
The festivities that take place in that city are bright and fun, with bailes folclóricos, food and drinks. But … we didn’t celebrate that in our household.
Taking this new information, I brought it to my teacher, who adamantly disagreed with me. That was until I had brought solid proof — a book — stating Mexico’s independence day.
Ever since that altercation, each time a teacher said Mexico’s independence day was Cinco de Mayo — which happened frequently, by the way — I had to correct them.
Mostly because I was proud of my culture and I wanted people to learn about it. I especially wanted them to learn the correct date.
And I’ve taken that duty seriously, especially now. Recently, there’s been a concern about cultural appropriation. There have been some acquaintances, even, who disagreed that Americans should celebrate this Mexican holiday. They viewed it as cultural appropriation — a sign of disrespect to a nation, the holiday, and to Mexicans.
I’m here to tell you that, though I don’t speak on behalf of all Mexicans, it is not cultural appropriation. I still want to see that passion on Cinco de Mayo that Americans have. I just want them to know that it’s not our independence day.
When other nations celebrate each other’s holidays, there’s a spark of interest in the culture. Some take the time to learn a little more, open their minds to new foods, traditions, words, art and history.
And that’s what I want, folks. I want people to learn about the brothers and sisters from all over the world — to bring us together instead of isolating ourselves even more in arbitrary traditions.
So come Tuesday, throw on some mariachi music, pour some margs and celebrate Mexico’s victory against the French on Cinco de Mayo. (While socially distancing yourselves ... obviously.)
Diana Rojo-Garcia, who will be eating tacos on Cinco de Mayo, can be reached at 507.345.6305 or firstname.lastname@example.org