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Dispelling Stereotypes Around Cinco de MayoMay 3, 2024

Cinco de Mayo, often celebrated in the U.S. with margaritas and tacos, has become a holiday that’s more widely focused on sombreros and parties than honoring the rich history of May 5 in Mexico.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, it’s a day that commemorates the Battle of Puebla, a fight in which the smaller and ill-equipped Mexican army successfully defeated the French from claiming Mexico as a territory. The Battle of Puebla didn’t mark the end of the war but represented Mexican spirit and resilience in the face of adversity. What was once a symbol of hope and unity for a country facing conflict has now become a commodity for brand promotions, products and more.

While it’s not a federal holiday, much like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo has become a widespread cultural observation in the U.S. While this day allows our society to commemorate the heritage of a region and its people, there is also reason for concern for the broad institutionalization of a historical moment without understanding the history behind it. Cinco de Mayo serves as a reminder that there is still work to be done in educating ourselves and the community about the customs of this day and its appropriate celebration.

So, while we’re all enjoying tequila-infused drinks and dancing to Peso Pluma, Xavi or Grupo Frontera, we would like to remind everyone to take the time to understand the true significance behind what it means to be Mexican on May 5. Avoid perpetuating the stereotypes and join us in celebrating our authentic culture – mariachi bands in tow. We’ve listed a few insights to get you started:

  • Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16, not May 5. Mexican Independence Day is marked by “El Grito de Dolores” (the Cry of Dolores), a tract that was read aloud on September 16 and called for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico. The Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo happened nearly 50 years after Mexico had won its independence from Spain. Learning the true meaning behind the holiday allows all of us to celebrate Mexican history and culture respectfully.
  • We can celebrate without the sombrero. Every year, we face the challenge of seeing society normalize the appropriation of Mexican culture in order to take part in the day. The normalization of stereotypes and biases some people exhibit while celebrating is both dangerous and disrespectful to the Mexican community. Please think twice before you go out in a sombrero, a poncho or a fake mustache and avoid saying “Cinco de Drinko” to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
  • Be authentic when connecting with the Mexican community. Cinco de Mayo is a marketing moment for brands, but companies must embrace it as an opportunity to create meaningful and authentic campaigns to connect and support the Hispanic community. Without authenticity, activations can come off as performative and artificial. Having a diverse team that can provide in-culture advice when developing these campaigns is crucial to both success and creating an authentic campaign rather than a performative one.

While there are many misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo, we cannot ignore its relevance in our country. As of 2023, Hispanics of Mexican decent accounted for 10.7 percent of the U.S. population and nearly 60 percent of the Hispanic population. As one of the largest demographics, Mexican influence on American culture through food, music and art only continues to grow.

There are indeed many positives about the popularity of the celebration in the U.S., as for many it is a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage. People of all backgrounds come together on this day to celebrate with food, drinks, music and dancing – all important aspects of our culture. Some cities with large Mexican American populations such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston host festivals to honor and celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

However you are choosing to enjoy the day, we hope you are also choosing to spend some time to understand our traditions and heritage. As proud as we are of the tequilas and tacos, our heritage runs much deeper, and we’re proud to be Mexican.

Co-Authors: Meaghan Flores, Danielle Montoya, Fatima Mullikin and Angelica Sanchez