By Paola Schietekat
If you ever lived in the US, and most recently, in a European country, you may have heard of 5 de Mayo: an excuse, poorly disguised by the remembrance of the Battle of Puebla in Mexico, to do tequila shots, often sporting a sombrero, a fake mustache, and often even a poncho. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with gathering with a group of friends to do a couple of shots. What is truly detrimental however, and the reason why most people in such parties will not be Mexican, is that a modest (w’ll get to that in a second) historical event is used as an excuse to perpetuate Mexican stereotypes, particularly in an already difficult time for the Mexican diaspora in the US.
In Mexico, nobody commemorates “5 de Mayo”, and I am pretty sure that if one asks the average partygoer what is behind a 5 de Mayo celebration, they would shrug and proceed to chug another tequila shot of questionable quality. In Mexico we often get a day off for commemorating the Battle of Puebla, a confrontation that took place in the state of Puebla in 1862 between the Mexican army and the French occupying forces. While Mexico defeated a superior French army in battle, the result of the war was quite underwhelming, with Mexico losing the second Battle of Puebla, and France taking over Mexico City in 1863.
Explaining how the remembrance of the battle, that did provide Mexico with a huge moral boost at the time, evolved into a celebration of Mexican heritage, particularly among the Mexican diaspora in the US requires an extensive sociological study that goes beyond the scope of this brief rant. My point here, rather, is to draw attention at how seemingly harmless displays of celebration by non-Mexicans can be very detrimental because they trivialize, make fun of and appropriate Mexican culture. Ignorance is bliss, but it may also lead one to engage in harmful practices, even if not in bad faith, which is why it is better to take some time to reflect and inform oneself about the underlying power dynamics that govern a typical “5 de Mayo” celebration.
Therefore, there are two possible scenarios: a celebration that propagates the existing stereotypes that caricaturize Mexicans as drunk and lazy. One where, recognizing that Mexicans never have the upper hand in their own media representations, encourages partygoers to dress up in traditional Mexican attire, without any slight understanding of its significance or of the status of those who usually sport it. One where the main emphasis is drinking for the sake of drinking, yelling stereotypical Spanish phrases, and that uses decorations and images that reinforce one-dimensional portrayals of Mexicans, or what is worse, Latin Americans at large.
OR, a celebration where people actively try to learn about the history behind it, where they try to connect with the Mexican community around them and center the narratives of that community, instead of centering themselves and their own entertainment. A celebration that seeks to support local Mexican businesses that produce authentic food or arts and crafts. A celebration that recognizes the disenfranchisement of indigenous Mexican communities and promotes initiatives focused on fair trade, grassroots development and fighting the power structures that marginalize them.
The second option may sound less appealing because it requires a bit more work and reflection. It requires one to question their privilege and consider how to use it in order to advance just causes, but this these efforts are crucial in order to fight racist narratives that have systematically eclipsed any effort that strives for fair representations of Mexico and its incredibly diverse mosaic of people.
Tl;dr? do not “dress up” as a trope and drink tequila for 5 de Mayo.
If you want to learn more, check this article published by the Embassy of Mexico in UK