I’ve seen a number of Facebook posts warning the world not to engage in Cinco de Mayo celebrations unless they really know what it’s about. I am not Mexican, and until today I really did not know specifically what this holiday was about. I only had a vague notion that it celebrated Mexican culture.
So I googled Cinco de Mayo and discovered that – like many other holidays – it commemorates a historical event that was quite violent and of questionable moral value. Somewhat along the lines of St. Patrick’s Day, which celebrates the deliberate cultural colonization of an indigenous religion (St. Patrick was known for converting all of the pagan druids to Christianity) – Cinco de Mayo celebrates a major battle between Mexico and France in which a lot of people died fighting over debts. Moreover, although Mexico won the battle against the well-equipped French forces, this battle led to the fame and eventual dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, known for ruling Mexico much in the same way that Trump rules the United States today. Namely, a corporate oligarchy that centralizes wealth and legitimates civil repression.
However, in spite of the dark side of history, Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 has been a source of great pride for Mexico, and it remains a celebration of Mexican culture and Mexican pride to Mexicans living all over the world – many of whom live in the United States. Moreover, it is more widely celebrated in the U.S. than in Mexico.
So in response to those who are saying “don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo unless it/you are authentic,” I say that (a) it has been celebrated in the U.S. just as long as it has been celebrated in Mexico, and (b) the blend of new and old, the adaptation of Cinco de Mayo in the U.S., and the general sentiment of respect for Mexico that it engenders are in fact better than the actual, historical events it was made to commemorate.
And likewise, I would say the same for St. Patrick’s Day. (not that they are the same!)