Srivastava: Beware of Cinco de Mayo darties

Heena Srivastava, Columnist

With the simultaneous onset of “darty season” and Cinco de Mayo this Saturday, college students across America will be whipping out their best guacamole recipes and stocking up on Coronas. And while Americans see the day as an opportunity to enjoy tacos and drinks, the party culture surrounding it has led to practices that disrespect Mexican culture. This year, the weather, the weekend and the distasteful sombreros create a perfect storm for cultural appropriation.

The holiday has previously been misrepresented by newscasts and morning shows. In 2014, MSNBC aired a correspondent perpetuating Mexican stereotypes by shaking maracas, donning a sombrero and taking swigs of tequila. This weekend, Chicago will host bar crawls for 20-somethings — complete with sombreros and oversized margaritas — to shake up their Saturday nights.

Cinco de Mayo, however, is not celebrated by the majority of Mexicans — or even throughout the majority of Mexico. SESP sophomore Alex Macedo says he learned about the holiday in elementary school but that when he asked his Mexican parents about their family’s plans, they said they do not even celebrate it. Even though the day commemorates The Battle of Puebla, a battle Mexico won, Macedo says it makes sense that it is not significant. “It’s like celebrating every minor battle won in the United States,” he says.

The celebration has become vastly Americanized, but nonetheless stems from Mexican culture. For Macedo, it is frustrating that a day associated with his culture is devoted to drinking. “There are many other ways to celebrate it besides drinking,” he says. “And the idea of somebody else celebrating or trying to celebrate something from my culture irks me because of the fact that I don’t even celebrate it.”

Macedo believes the association stigmatizes Mexican culture as being heavily reliant on drinking. “This has been happening, this is not anything new,” he says. “But I do think people need to start seeing this and try to create change with the way that they celebrate it.” The distortion of the holiday’s original meaning makes students of Mexican heritage uncomfortable, and this alone should be enough for American celebrators to tone down their actions.

Macedo says we should focus more on observing traditional Mexican holidays. “Instead of celebrating Cinco de Mayo, it should be the day that the war was over. Or even putting more emphasis on when the Independence started,” he says.

People of Mexican descent may interact with their culture in different ways: Macedo does not celebrate Cinco de Mayo at all, but there are countless other people of Mexican heritage that have their own separate opinions on the holiday. This should remind us that while no group of people is monolithic, we should see any hint of discomfort at our behavior within another culture as a red flag. One person’s willingness to share their culture with us does not give us license to take ownership of it.

The significance of a holiday like Cinco de Mayo should be left in the hands of the people it came from. This is more than a stereotypical costume — these celebrations devote an entire day to misrepresenting a culture and, by consequence, reinforce racial and ethnic power dynamics. Cinco de Mayo is another example of Americans using holidays as excuses to get drunk, and in this instance, it isn’t even our holiday to disrespect in the first place. So as you venture off to darties this Saturday, keep in mind how you’re enjoying yourself. Make sure not to contribute to a history of stigmatization, and call your friends out for any problematic behavior they’re exhibiting. Don’t wait to stop the disrespect until someone of Mexican heritage tells you to do so.

Heena Srivastava is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.