Cinco de Mayo not Independence Day

By Thunderword Staff

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo and while many Americans may think they are honoring an important Mexican holiday, their actions are seen by some Mexicans as offensive.

Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken as Mexican Independence Day.

Mexican Independence Day is actually celebrated on Sept. 16 and dates back to 1810 when Father Miguel Hidalgo issued a proclamation known as "El Grito de Dolores" which combined the rebellions opposing Spain. Mexico eventually achieved their independence from the Spanish in 1821.

Some Highline students may not understand the actual meaning of Cinco de Mayo.

"Cinco de Mayo is a day where a beer company created the day to sell beer," one student said.

Another student said that Cinco de Mayo, "is a big Mexican party, where my family goes to a Mexican restaurant, and gets margaritas and chips."

Another student said that they celebrate the day and more.

"We celebrate it all week long, buying Mexican beer and drinking it every night."

A couple of students understood the meaning of Cinco de Mayo.

As another student answered, "Cinco de Mayo is a day where Mexico celebrates where they

defeated the French," one student said.

Cinco de Mayo was a date of a victory by Mexican troops in La Batalla de Puebla, which occurred 50 years later on May 5, 1862.

During the Battle of Puebla in 1862, the Mexican army defeated the occupying French.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States on May 5. However, in Mexico it is not a national holiday simply a local one, celebrated mostly in the city of Puebla.

"Cinco de Mayo has really become a North Americanized celebratory day wrapped in capitalism," said Joshua Magallanes, a Highline counselor.

For Stephanie Ojeda Espinoza, an English professor and the co-coordinator of the Puente program, "The day really has no significance to me and I don't celebrate it. Even my family on my father's side who is from Puebla don't celebrate it."

Both Magallanes and Espinoza, who are of Mexican descent, said that this day supports Mexican stereotypes.

"The way it is celebrated in the U.S. is very commercial," said Magallanes, citing the way beer companies and restaurants advertise for the day.

He said the celebrations started in California and then began to spread across the country because of beer companies using the day to capitalize from it.

The way Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United States is offensive because the significance is ignored and the day is usually mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, Espinoza said.

It creates stereotypes because it is focused on tacos and tequila and becomes even more offensive when sombreros and serapes are worn without knowing the history and meaning behind these things, Espinoza said.

Magallanes said there is a better way for Americans to recognize Mexican history.

"By understanding the significance of the day and not just getting the 2 -for- 1 at your local bar," Magallanes said.

"By having people who know about the history of Cinco de Mayo, they can inform others about it by hosting workshops," Espinoza said.

Members of Highline's LatinX Club offered a variety of perspectives and experiences about Cinco de Mayo as a holiday.

"Never grew up celebrating it," said Geneva Alfonso-Mendez, the president of LatinX Club.

Another member of the club said the holiday is "About the war in Puebla, when Mexicans fought against France and won. I don't celebrate it and it's not important to me. It's just a normal day."

Still another member remembered, "When I lived in LA, my school had dance performances to celebrate all of Latin America, not just Cinco de Mayo. The significance of the day was never taught or recognized."

Alfonso-Mendez said she does not find the American fascination with the holiday offensive.

"Not offensive, however it does give off the wrong impression of the history of the day. The day is used to market Mexican products."

One student said they "Always viewed it as the day we had Mexican food at school."

"People celebrate it for the discounts," another member said.

And although some people find the celebration offensive, others use it as an excuse to socialize.

"My brother and his friends go out to drink," one member said.

"My coworkers go out for drinks," another said.

Some drew parallels to March 17.

"It's comparable to St. Patrick's Day. Same idea," said one student.

"It's the day you don't feel discriminated," said another.

For one non-Mexican LatinX student, being asked about Cinco de Mayo is offensive.

"People come up to me and ask me about it when I'm not even Mexican and I've told them I'm not," said the student, who said their appearance makes some people automatically think they celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Others are offended. "When drunk people try to talk to me in Spanish and they don't know what they are saying," the student said.

"When people dress up with sombreros and traditional Mexican clothing, it becomes offensive. It's culture appropriation," Alfonso-Mendez said.

Club members offered tips how to be less offensive.

"Schools should not participate in celebrating it and neither should Mexican restaurants, even though it can make them money," Alfonso-Mendez said. "They should respect their own culture and not go along with this holiday."

"Instead, Mexicans should use social media to spread awareness so younger generations can learn the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo," she said.

"History classes should incorporate it and teach about it, even if it's just something small like reading an article about it," Alfonso-Mendez said.

Reporters Joselin Alcantara, Spohia Latiyar, and Roth Leahy contributed to this story.

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