NU Cinco de Mayo celebration combats misconceptions about holiday

Tom Meyer

About 50 Northwestern students and professors packed into Scott Hall on Thursday evening to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in style.

The second annual campus Cinco de Mayo celebration featured music, a buffet from Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant and a presentation about the historical context of the holiday.

Several campus organizations, including Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc., Alianza, the Spanish and Portuguese department, Latina and Latino Studies and the Office of Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs, co-sponsored the celebration.

“We always try to do programs with the intent to educate the public and our students,” said Christian Yanez, director of Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs. “We want people to better understand what this day was about.”

The presentation emphasized that Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862 and 1863 – not Mexico’s independence from Spain – and is mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla and in the U.S. It also explained the Battle of Puebla consisted of two battles over the course of a year in which the Mexican army scored major upset victories over the invading French forces.

“We wanted to start off with people’s misconceptions about (Cinco de Mayo) and then go through and explain the real history,” said Diana Martinez, president of NU’s chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc.

Many in the audience were Spanish-speaking students at NU or students of Hispanic heritage. Professors from the Spanish and Portuguese department encouraged students who were learning the language to speak with native Spanish speakers and socialize as part of the “tertulia,” or social gathering, portion of the celebration. Much of the event also focused on the commercialized aspect of Cinco de Mayo in America and what Yanez sees as sometimes “racist connotations.”

“It’s something that we see, you know the (image of the) lazy Mexicano,” Yanez said. “One of my colleagues would argue that beer companies have hijacked the day to make profits … You know, ‘drinko the Cinco.'”

To Martinez, a Weinberg sophomore, the event offers the chance to correct these ideas.

“We just want people to learn about the significance of Cinco de Mayo,” she said, “and hopefully that (puts) all the commercialization into context.”

Following the presentation, students socialized and ate Mexican food while music played over the speakers. The celebratory and relaxed mood of the event made it particularly enjoyable for those in attendance, Communication freshman Pedro Urgiles said.

“It’s a good chance to socialize with friends and have some good food,” Urgiles said. “Good people, good food, good atmosphere. And you always have fun at Latino events.”

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