How To Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Without Being A Culturally Insensitive Jerk

Cinco de Mayo
PHOTO: ARINAHABICH / GETTY IMAGES

If you’re a non-Mexican living in America, you probably know of Cinco de Mayo as the holiday where everybody consumes a lot of tacos and margaritas. In the excitement over another excuse to drink your brains out, both history and cultural sensitivity are lost. Look, you don’t necessarily need to memorize every fact about this holiday, but you should avoid being an a**hole. Here’s how.

Firstly, you need to learn the basics. Many Americans mistakenly think that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican version of Independence Day, perhaps because of the similarity in name. It’s not, though, and you sound kind of dumb if you say that out loud. Mexican Independence Day is on September 16. Cinco de Mayo is a separate holiday that memorializes the Battle of Puebla, in which Mexican troops were victorious over French troops. 

Image: Esdelval / Getty Images

In Mexico, the holiday is regionally celebrated in the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred. For various reasons, it’s A LOT more popular across the nation of the U.S. than it is in Mexico. Here, it’s arguably evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture in general. Some of the popularity was driven by Mexican-American cultural pride, but much of it was driven by corporate interests. Imagine how many Coronas are sold on this one day alone! Capitalism: The devil you know.

Problematic history aside, Cinco de Mayo can be a lot of fun in the U.S. — margaritas, beer and tacos are three of the best things in the world, and Mexico’s rich culture is truly a gift to the world. You don’t have to skip celebrating altogether, but please, just don’t be an a**hole.  Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in a way that’s respectful and fun at the same time is likely a lot easier than you think. 

Image: ABC / TBS

While you’re celebrating, you can follow these simple guidelines.

First, do not dress up as a Mexican. Cultures are not costumes. It’s not funny or clever, and everyone else will be talking sh*t about you. 

Second, no really, DO NOT DRESS UP AS A MEXICAN. Do not wear a sombrero. Do not wear a fake mustache. Do not wear a poncho. Do not dress up as a cholo/chola. While you’re at it, don’t use fake Spanglish words like “drinko.” Yikes.

Third, support local Mexican-owned businesses during this holiday rather than corporate chains or party venues. You can also donate to community-based organizations that empower Mexican communities. If you're going to partake in another culture, you should also give something back.

Fourth, aim to actually learn something about Mexico while you celebrate, even if it’s just discovering new foods. Many cities with significant Mexican populations have public festivities where you can watch traditional dances and listen to music while eating delicious food.

Fifth, if a Mexican or Latinx person calls you out on being an a**hole, don’t argue with them about it. Take it as an opportunity to listen and learn. Prioritizing the actual Mexican humans in your space should always be your first concern. 

Lastly — because this should go without saying — refrain from making any offensive “jokes” or demeaning comments about Mexicans during this holiday (or ever). Even if you’re being ironic. Even if your one Mexican friend “thought it was funny.” Just don’t go there.

And that’s it, folks. See? It’s not that hard, and it’s worth the bit of extra effort. There are so many other types of an a**hole to be — do you really want to be a racist one?

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KIM WONG-SHING

Kim Wong-Shing is a writer, lipstick junkie, and plant mama in New Orleans. She grew up in Philadelphia and went to Brown University. Connect with her on Instagram.

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