Posted by: cgratton | May 5, 2009

Cinco de Mayo: Cultural Commemoration or Commercial Conquest?

Break out the tequila, mix up some guacamole and put on your favorite sombrero, because it’s Cinco de Mayo, mi amigos!

But what are we really celebrating?

Much to contrary belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day (that’s on September 16).  Actually, today is a commemoration of the Mexican army’s unlikely defeat of the French back in the mid 1800’s.  Like a scene out of 300, a completely outnumbered and out-armed Mexican army stopped Napoleon III’s super-powered French forces in Puebla, a city 100 miles east of Mexico City, from continuing their quest to overtake the capital.

Yet, Cinco de Mayo is not a nationally recognized holiday in Mexico, most Mexicans don’t even observe it further than having a parade and giving their currently serving soldiers a salute. So why do Americans go crazy for the equivalent of “Mexican Veteran’s Day”??

In the U.S., the Chicano population has adopted this day as a celebration of Mexican heritage, proudly honoring their culture with parades, mariachi music, dancing and feasts.

It’s nice to look at Cinco de Mayo, like St. Patrick’s Day, as a day for Americans of every ethnicity to celebrate this along with the rest of the Mexican-American community, and pay tribute to an important facet of the American population.  But the fact still remains that most Americans don’t understand the holiday’s true significance, and just use it as a good excuse to let their hair down, gorge on half-priced bar nachos and take an obscene amount of tequila shots without judgment.

Also like St. Patrick’s Day, much of the reason for Cinco de Mayo’s popularity is that it’s a filler in the holiday dry season, a prime opportunity for American commercialism (yet again) to capitalize on a day, morph its significance and sell it as a glitzy product.

Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh and looking at it from a disproportional, college-partying perspective.  I just hope that the rest of the country will pay their respects to the Mexican army of 1862, and the thriving Mexican-American community, at some point tonight between the salt and the lime.

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