Cinco de Mayo has a misconception in the U.S. as being the Mexican Independence Day, or Mexico’s version of the 4th of July. In actuality, Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th and Cinco de Mayo is largely a U.S. holiday.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican Battle of Puebla against the French, but the Cinco de Mayo celebrations we see today began in California by Mexican Americans in the spring of 1970 when students at UC Berkeley gathered to honor a “David vs. Goliath” victory where the small Mexican army overtook its mighty invader.
While Cinco de Mayo isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico, with the exception of some celebrations in the Puebla region, in the U.S. it has become a day fraught with cultural appropriation. You’ll often see party-goers wearing sombreros, fake mustaches, and ponchos which are racist costumes and caricatures of Mexican culture.
This Cinco de Mayo, we urge you to be thoughtful about how you celebrate. You can do this by supporting Mexican-owned restaurants and businesses, trying out a new recipe for an authentic Mexican dish at home, and checking out local Mexican artists in your community. Here in Western Washington, we have the newly opened Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture in Seattle!
Above all, avoid using this day as an opportunity for cultural appropriation, and be aware of and call out appropriation when you see it in your community.