Ask any Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner what their least favorite holiday is and Cinco de Mayo will likely top the list. Many D&I advocates, including Mexican-Americans, find the holiday frustrating due to the rampant cultural appropriation that usually occurs during celebrations and the fact that Cinco de Mayo is widely regarded as an American drinking holiday. Given the current political climate and general increase in prejudice against Mexican-Americans and immigrants from Mexico, it’s no wonder their reactions to America’s fondness of Cinco de Mayo include:

“Americans sure do love our culture, but not our people.”

“Do Americans know they’re celebrating a holiday about Mexicans killing White colonizers?”

“Cinco de Mayo is a reminder of how many times Mexico has been invaded by other countries.” (USA Today)

Large Cinco de Mayo fiestas take place annually in major cities across the United States, however despite the popularity of these celebrations, there are still misconceptions that persist surrounding the holiday. Regardless of the pitfalls, the holiday does provide an excellent opportunity to educate people and foster a better understanding of and appreciation for Mexican culture.

Misconception #1 – Cinco de Mayo (which translates to “the fifth of May”) does NOT celebrate Mexican Independence Day. In fact, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s unlikely, yet formidable victory over the French military in the Battle of Puebla. Their defeat of the French was a particular point of pride given Mexico’s history of colonization.

Misconception #2 – Cinco de Mayo is NOT widely celebrated in Mexico. “Today, Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, mostly celebrated in Puebla, where the battle took place. Most of the country considers Mexican Independence Day, celebrated on September 16th, to be a more important day to express their patriotism.” (ABC News)

DOs and DON’Ts
When considering a Cinco de Mayo themed event, especially in a corporate setting, first ask yourself [or others] “why do you feel the need to celebrate this holiday?” This simple assessment can help determine appropriateness. When possible, try to incorporate education so the event can be more culturally affirming. In regards to theming, here are some suggestions to consider in order to observe the holiday in a more authentic way:

AVOID images such as these, which can offend some and/or perpetuate negative stereotypes about the Mexican culture:

  • large, fake moustaches
  • sombreros
  • dancing chili pepper
  • beer/margaritas, etc.

CONSIDER more accurate imagery, such as:

  • the Mexican flag
  • papel picado
  • authentic mariachi bands
  • colorful flowers

*Note: Calaveras (colorful sugar skulls) are associated with Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead, not with Cinco de Mayo.

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