7 Non-Offensive Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo Today

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Even though it doesn’t feel like it to most of us, May 5th has finally arrived. To some of you, that’s just another day on the way to summer. For others, it brings to mind margaritas and tacos. Admittedly, as a white, non-Hispanic person, I can’t tell you the lived experience of being Mexican and watching all the stupid shenanigans white Americans get up to on Cinco de Mayo. What I can say to people like me is: folks, we need to be better than this, and there are non-offensive ways to celebrate the holiday.

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The truth is that Americans are way more into Cinco de Mayo than many Mexicans are, in part because the date refers to a battle against the French that took place in Puebla in 1862. Although the Mexican troops won that battle, they later lost a second Battle of Puebla to the French. In fact, Cinco de Mayo didn’t really gain steam as a holiday in the U.S. until the 1960s, probably as an excuse to sell more beer.

None of that has stopped Americans from turning it into a national event. Hopefully, by now you know well enough that if you’re not of Mexican descent, donning a sombrero and poncho for the festivities is problematic AF (cultural appropriation, anybody?). Hopefully, you also know well enough not to speak in offensive accents, and you’ve given up on “Cinco de Drinko!” …right? Right?

That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. If you’re interested in Mexican culture and want to recognize Cinco de Mayo looking like an ignorant jerk, here are some ideas.

1. Learn more about Mexican history…

… starting with the fact that Cinco De Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexico’s real Independence Day is Sept. 16, which is recognized as the beginning of the revolt against the Spanish colonizers.

Mexico is full of rich history. Whether you start with the Olmecs, the earliest known society in Mexico, and work your way forward, or start with more recent times, there’s no shortage of human stories to learn from. Challenge yourself to learn something new.

2. Read books by Mexican or Mexican-American authors

Try I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, Living Beyond Borders by Margarita Longoria, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea or The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.

3. Watch Mexican movies & shows

Mexico has no shortage of visionary film and television creators. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s repertoire includes the coming-of-age film Y tu mamá también and the semi-autobiographical drama Roma, both of which are critically acclaimed. More of a TV person? Try Ingobernable, a show about the president and first lady of Mexico that has gotten rave reviews, or Club de Cuervos, a soccer dramedy that was Netflix’s first Spanish-language series..

4. Support local Mexican-American businesses

Skip chain restaurants like Chipotle or Taco Bell. Visit your local panadería or tortilleria, get tamales and champurrado for breakfast from your local tamalero, or try every meat available at your favorite taco truck. The same goes with decor and clothing — if you’re looking for something special for Cinco De Mayo, skip the generic items you can find on Amazon or at big box stores in favor of shopping at Mexican and Mexican-American owned businesses, and make sure to avoid stereotyping.

5. Cook at home

Experiment with Mexican cuisine from the comfort of your own kitchen. Try to go beyond recipes and learn about the cuisines of different areas in Mexico — Oaxaca, Baja, Yucatán, Jalisco — and a bit about their history and how it influences the expression of their local dishes (Serious Eats has a great run down on the cuisine of Puebla, which is obviously relevant for Cinco De Mayo). Grab a cookbook, like TikToker Jenny Martinez’s new cookbook My Mexican Mesa, Y Listo! or Rick Martínez’s exploration of regional Mexican cuisine, Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico.

6. Listen to Mexican or Mexican-American musicians

Mexico has a rich and varied musical culture, from Mexican goth and prog rock bands like Caifanes to regional genres like banda, corrido, ranchero, and mariachi. Spotify’s Música Mexicana landing page will guide you to hundreds of artists and playlists to check out.

7. Donate to organizations

Here are a few to consider:

Detention Watch Network, which is “working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system.”

Farmworker Justice, which “seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.”

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which “promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access.”

Cinco De Mayo
Cinco De Mayo

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