While Cinco de Mayo celebrations will continue through the weekend, there is concern that the holiday has lost it’s meaning. With police putting out warnings for drunk driving for “Drinko de Mayo,” activists have taken exception to events that invite sponsorship from beer companies that have encouraged this misrepresetation. The holiday celebrated in the United states, has puzzled those living in Mexico as it has been viewed as a moment in history that was largely ignored. But Chicano activists involved in the “movement” first popularized the holiday at local universities including UCLA. They saw the battle of Puebla in 1862 rag tag army of farmworkers and laborers that turned back a well armed french army to be a David vs. Goliath example that could inspire and motivate students to succeed and overcome adversity. Professor Rodriguez is one professor that is calling for “taking back the holiday,” and organized a run to commemorate the holiday.
Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is the time of year, every year, when non-Mexicans get to mock Mexicans in a ritualistic manner, usually involving people in “Brown face,” the overconsumption of alcohol, a display of massive ignorance and a whole lot of racial stereotypes.
This year, the event is being commemorated nationwide in a different way via Cinco de Mayo sobriety runs.
This is being done because Cinco de Mayo has degenerated to the point in which even the name itself has been altered, apparently in a greater effort to “honor” Mexican people via Drinko de Mayo celebrations. Google both terms and see what pops up – the same identical images of sombreros, huaraches, sarapes, fake mustaches and donkeys – none of them having anything to do with Cinco itself. (For an actual history of the event and celebration, read “El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition,” by David Hayes Bautista, University of California Press.)
We can blame our schools for this ignorance, but the alcohol and liquor industries are primarily responsible for essentially hijacking an authentically Mexican-American holiday, and converting it into drink fests that have nothing to do with the historic event in which Mexican Indigenous forces – led by Texas-born Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza – repelled the French at Puebla, Mexico, in 1862.
We can also blame a compliant media that permits this annual denigration, which is actually not an annual affair; it is simply when this degradation is most on display. What is revealed on this day is the dehumanization brought to this continent since 1492, and specifically, in 1848, to what is today the US Southwest when the United States took half of Mexico, at the barrel of a gun. When people are viewed and treated as less than human, you can wipe them out, steal their land, enslave, beat, imprison, discriminate against and segregate them. This is what societies do to peoples they think of as less than human. This explains the current law enforcement violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples.
This is also why Indigenous peoples of the United States have long protested the use of Native sports mascots, such as the “Redskins,” while bigots claim to be honoring them. This weekend, we should be prepared for lots of “honoring” of Mexican peoples.
Cinco de Mayo is not “Mexican Independence Day” (that is September 16). It is actually an anti-imperialist victory that commemorates the defeat of invading French forces. How drinking is associated with this event is jarring, though it is easily explainable in a capitalist society in which any opportunity for money to be made will be exploited. So we shouldn’t expect the alcohol industry not to exploit any opportunity that comes their way – because that is what they do. At the same time, we should not expect people to sit idly by, year after year, while the day is stripped of all its meaning, as capitalists promoting drink fests at the expense of Mexican culture.
Imagine if those industries did the same with Martin Luther King Jr. Day? But that’s just the drinking part of it. Where does the bigotry come in and how did it become acceptable for people to “dress up like Mexicans” on this particular day? Google “Mexican party costumes” and you will find companies that promote and sell these same stereotypes year-round, yet added to their repertoire nowadays is an “illegal alien” theme that also includes “migra” and outer space alien costumes.
Why the “sensitivity?” It is really not the stereotypes by themselves that are bothersome; it is the dehumanization that we see virtually every day on display in the corporate media, and its accompanying hate, in which immigration is projected as an issue of Mexicans overwhelming the United States. Thus, the popular formulation: All migrants to this country are Mexicans; all Mexicans are migrants and all Latinos are Mexicans, thus all peoples from Mexico, Central and South America are “illegal” migrants. Balance that formulation against the continual Indigenous proclamations that “We cannot be foreigners on our continent.”
Many communities have had enough and thus, on this Cinco de Mayo weekend, many cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Tucson, Denver and Denton, Texas, will feature Cinco de Mayo sobriety runs, protesting the hijacking of the holiday by the alcohol industry. The runners will not be wearing sombreros.
Dr. Robert Cintli Rodriguez is a professor at the University of Tucson. He is originally from Los Angeles.
This article first appeared on truthout.org