Over 100 students gathered at Norris Wednesday for food, music, dancing and a panel discussion on the historical and political significance behind the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Though many of us lovingly associate “Drink-o de Mayo” with Coronas, getting smashed, and borderline to blatant racist renditions of Latino costume or language, History Professor Gerry Cadava, a panelist at the event, spoke about Cinco de Mayo’s more authentic origins.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 – the last time a country in the Americas was invaded by an army from another continent.
It marks “an important moment of resistance,” Professor Cadava said. “After the 1846 war with the US, half of Mexico was annexed. Mexico was struggling and France came in. [...] Mexico had half the size army of France, 4,000 to 8,000.”
Today, outside of the Mexican state of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated in the U.S.
Cadava argued that the shape and form of the current celebrations in the U.S. were formulated over the past few decades. “Drink-o de Mayo” started as an “explicit ad campaign in the 70’s by a Mexican drink company [Corona] supposedly for Mexicans, but actually consumers like Jimmy Buffet signed on,” Cadava said.
Student panelist and Medill senior Arianna Hermosillo said that there was a great need to “challenge what Cinco de Mayo means.”
She described a perceived disparity between some greek functions that encourage “mocking of Spanish as a language, Swine Flu themed-parties, exploitation of culture, and reinforcement of stereotypes” and more traditionally-oriented celebrations such as the the upcoming non-alcoholic, Latino/Latina dance party at Theta Chi.
The panel also featured Latino/Latina Studies Professor Micaela Diaz-Sanchez, who discussed what constituted appropriate celebration.
“If we really want to celebrate our mixed cultures, we need to learn about them,” Diaz-Sanchez said. “Culture is not monolithic, we also need to think about how they’ve changed.”
Panelists emphasized the need for events like these and an active Latino/Latina Studies program. Recently, in addition to Immigration Law SB 1070 making it a crime to live or travel in Arizona as an undocumented immigrant, Arizona also enacted HB 2281 banning Ethnic Studies.
These laws are not just “doing something racist, but taking away the tool that will help you understand it was racist,” Cadava said.
The event concluded with a Mexican folkloric dance performed by SESP junior Judith Landeros. Even these traditional dances have changed over time, she said.