Virtually every Mexican with any sense of pride cringes this time of the year because, once again, the Cinco de Mayo season is upon us. It is that time of the year in which society gives itself permission to gratuitously insult Mexicans.
For this, we can thank the alcohol and liquor industries that have converted this most special of days into what has become a monthlong drinking advertising campaign.
Yet, we are now beginning to see a different way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo, a way that honors, rather than dishonors Mexican people and their culture.
Talk to most anyone taking part in these “ Drinko de Mayo festivities” at one of the Mexican-theme parties and you will get someone wearing a sombrero, a serape, huaraches, and of course, a fake mustache — standing next to cactus or a donkey (piñata) — to say the celebration has something to do with Mexican Independence. This usually is part of the media interview that we all have become accustomed to.
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day; that is Sept. 16. Instead, May 5 celebrates the defeat by a ragtag army of indigenous forces — led by Texas-born, general Ignacio Zaragoza — of a much larger and invading French army in the battle at Puebla, Mexico, in 1862. If one actually wants to learn about this celebration, read “El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition” by UCLA Professor David Hayes Bautista (University of California Press).
For many years, it was a genuine holiday on both sides of the border, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. But it has degenerated into drinkfests. As such, people have been protesting this hijacking for a generation, but to no avail … until now.
One reason for this protest is that when this hijacking took place, the education component was dropped. At the same time, in many communities where this “celebration” is most heavily promoted and exploited by these industries, this is also where alcoholism is rampant.
There is another reason why people object to this commercialization. It is when these industries also most promote negative stereotypes. In Google Images, if one Googles the term Cinco de Mayo or Mexican party costumes, the results will confirm this. In addition to the stereotypical images already alluded to, for such theme parties, gangbangers or immigration officers are now also part of the standard repertoire.
These industries are comprised of multibillion-dollar corporations and they have a vested interest in cashing in on what often becomes a two-weekend affair, and when you consider the promotion behind it, an entire month. So it does not seem realistic the situation will self-correct anytime soon.
At the University of Arizona, students from several of the Mexican American studies classes have found a different way to celebrate: they are putting on the second annual Cinco de Mayo 5k sobriety walk/run and healthy food festival at the Valenzuela Youth Center, 1550 S. Sixth Ave, on Saturday. This year, similar runs are also taking place in Denver and Denton, Texas.
The objective of the event is threefold: 1) to protest that linkage between this special day with liquor and alcohol; 2) to protest the commercialization of this day; and 3) to protest the annual mocking of Mexicans. The event also seeks to educate, celebrate and promote healthy living, while learning about and celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Roberto “Dr. Cintli” Rodriguez is an assistant professor in Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona. Contact him at XColumn@gmail.com