There is rich Latino culture throughout Denver and Colorado in general so celebrations honoring Cinco de Mayo are a big deal. But often times the celebrations become less about the cultural appreciation of the Mexican community and instead the holiday becomes more about drinking and partying especially by non-Mexican individuals. Because of this, there are many instances when Cinco de Mayo becomes a holiday that is full of cultural appropriation. But do not fret, 303 Magazine has listed ways for you to avoid cultural appropriation for the holiday celebrations.
Learn About the Holiday: What is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of culture and freedom. The celebration is a result of the victory of the outnumbered Mexican Army defeating the French imperial invaders in the Town of Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862. Because this battle is relatively insignificant in the grander history of the war between Mexico and France, Puebla, Mexico is one of the only places you can find any Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico. Ironically, Mexican-Americans and non-Latinos celebrate the holiday in the US more so than people from Mexico do. This was a result of beer companies in the US looking for ways to target Spanish-speaking communities in the 1970s and ’80s. So because of these corporate needs, Cinco de Mayo as we know it today has taken the party-friendly connotations and this has in turn has resulted in cultural appropriation.
“Cinco de Mayo is probably one of the most extreme and obvious examples of corporate-driven cultural appropriation of something that is pretty insignificant in the Mexican community, historically,” said Arturo Aldama, associate chair and associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. “From what I understand, with the history of Cinco de Mayo is that beer companies, Doritos, Taco Bell, all of these corporate-driven things thought that (Cinco de Mayo) would be a really good marketing campaign and a really good way to sell products and to sell these very superficial assimilations of communities.
Refrain From Wearing Racist Costumes or Appropriated Clothing
Would you show up to an African celebration in blackface or an Asian restaurant in a kimono and geisha makeup? If you answered no (as you should) then why would you ever show up to a Mexican celebration in a sombrero, fake mustaches and a poncho?
“It’s not necessary for you to put on fake mustaches and sombreros and all those kinds of things. There are many cities that offer many different types Cinco de Mayo celebrations. You know, you wouldn’t walk into a Mexican restaurant like that. You wouldn’t do that on a normal day so I don’t know why you would do that on Cinco de Mayo,” said Andrea Barela, Development Director of NEWSED CDC that puts on the Cinco de Mayo Festival.
In Mexican culture, low riders and chola/o attire are a part of many people’s self-identification. Mocking these culturally significant things means that you are mocking the parts of people that make them who they are. If you think dark lip liner, bold eyebrows, colorful cars, hydraulics, religious candles and rosaries are silly, you can also ask yourself why you view these different parts of Mexican identity the way you do. And if you’re feeling extra bold you can even ask someone who owns a low rider, or someone who dresses in cholo/a fashion about their culture and what these things mean to them (especially before passing judgment).
An example Aldama talks about in his classes is a racist episode that a colleague of his experienced on a campus at a University in Georgia. He recalls the story of his Latino friend being approached and confronted by men appropriating low-rider culture and draping the forever-racist confederate flag across the car. The irony in this story comes from the fact that these men where appropriating the very culture they were detesting with their racist remarks.
“(These white supremacists) were listening to hip-hop, they’re riding in a low rider and they started shouting all these racial epithets,” Aldama said. “They’re like, ‘I’ll take these different aspects of African-American, Latino or other non-white cultural spaces and I’m going to be a white supremacist doing it.'”
This was an extreme instance of cultural appropriation and direct racism. But it also displays just how important it is to have spaces like the low-rider car show at the Cinco de Mayo Festival is for people to show off and embrace their culture.
Avoid Corporate Chains and Explore Mexican Cuisine
In both Mexican and Mexican American communities food is an extremely important part of a culture that is about teaching, bonding, collaborating and perfecting recipes. When people equate Cinco de Mayo to just tacos and tequila they are completely undermining the significance that cooking and food has in Mexican culture.
“Cooking, at least for a lot of families, is really this time to spend, usually with the women of the family, and they share these different (secrets) with you and it’s kind of a collaborative thing (especially) with the abuelitas. When your appropriating none of that community building stuff is there. It’s just taco Tuesday and tequila shots, flaming hot Cheetos or whatever,” Aldama said.
Don’t worry, you can still eat tacos and all of the other wonderful food creations that Mexican culture has blessed us with. You can research authentic recipes and where they came from. And instead, choosing your Cinco de Mayo meals to be at restaurants like Taco Bell or other corporate chains, try restaurants or vendors owned by people from Mexico.
Here’s how you can celebrate respectfully
- Read this for a better understanding of the history of Cinco de Mayo and this for more information on the evolution of the holiday in the US.
- If you want to enjoy Mexican food check out one of the many Mexican owned and operated restaurants in Denver. Here are a couple to get you started: La Calle Taqueria Y Carnitas, Socorro’s Street Tacos and Tacos Jalisco.
- Donate or get involved as an ally for Latino-based organizations
- Suggestion: Here are some organizations that support the Latino community: Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), Mi Casa Resource Center or you can check out this list for different national organizations that benefit the Latino community.
- Consider celebrating Dieciseis de Septiembre (Mexican Independence Day), which is more widely celebrated in Mexico rather than Cinco de Mayo.
- Suggestion: Learn more about Dieciseis de Septiembre here.
- Or if you want to attend a celebration check out Cinco De Mayo Denver. It is hosted by a nonprofit and is a 30-year tradition that supports and celebrates the Mexican community.
To Aldama, cultural representation and inclusion of youth from the Latina/o community are two of the most important parts of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. “The number one thing is to have community-based organizations be front and center in any kinds of these spaces and if that’s the focus then I think that would be wonderful. But (there’s) tension between getting drunk and partying versus having a space that’s positive for these communities,” he said. “Having a space where the youth are valued and honored I think would be massive because a lot of (Latina/o) kids feel invisible in the classroom or feel like anything of our histories, communities and cultures are not important.”
However you decide to celebrate, think about what you are doing, how it might be hurtful or oppressive and leave the racist stereotypes behind. Please remember that appreciating and appropriating Mexican culture or any culture for that matter, are not the same things.