By Danielle Kiefer
For Unwind magazine
Cinco de Mayo is a day dedicated to commemorating the Mexican army’s unlikely victory in 1862, but on college campuses, its true meaning is often lost.
Cinco de Mayo is held on May 5 in honor of the Battle of Puebla, when the Mexican army defeated French forces under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. In the U.S., the holiday has grown to be associated with a celebration of Mexican-American culture. However, for college students especially, this often leads to themed parties and cultural appropriation.
“I truly hate the way people celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.,” junior psychology major Katie Wilson said. “Americans use it as an excuse to drink tequila and throw on sombreros, without even taking the time to recognize what it’s about, or to realize what they’re doing is harmful and perpetuates negative stereotypes about Mexico.”
In addition, many have misconceptions about what Cinco de Mayo really celebrates.
“A lot of people think that it’s Mexico’s independence day, but it’s really not. Independence day is September 16,” said sophomore journalism major Alicia Cherem. “I think people just use it as an excuse to drink and party.”
For students at this university who are Mexican, the lack of knowledge surrounding the history of Cinco de Mayo, coupled with the stereotypes its revelers can reinforce, can be hurtful.
“It offends me a little bit because I’m Mexican, and I don’t look Mexican, so I don’t like the whole mustache thing,” Cherem said.
To combat these practices, this university has made an effort to reduce offensive costumes and cultural appropriation. The American Indian Student Union created “It Means More,” a campaign to help students understand the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation.
The campaign, which received a grant from this university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, aims to let students “know that our culture means more than just a costume or a fashion statement,” according to its website. The campaign organizers created posters to help guide students on acceptable costumes versus offensive costumes.
Students in Greek life are also striving to be more inclusive. As Panhellenic Association’s diversity and inclusion vice president, a position that was created last year, Jessica Sirota holds meetings with each chapter’s diversity and inclusion chairs to help them ensure that Greek life is as inclusive and diverse as possible.
“There have not been any big incidents involving cultural appropriation recently, but there have definitely been incidents in Greek life with social themes and the way members are dressing,” the sophomore communication major said.
Sirota will be discussing with the diversity and inclusion chairs ways to communicate with their chapter about “dressing appropriately for any Cinco de Mayo-themed events they may be going to,” Sirota said.
Students like Cherem and Wilson hope that others will educate themselves more about the significance behind Cinco de Mayo, instead of just using it as an excuse to party and inadvertently perpetuate wrongful stereotypes.
“I’ve seen people posting pictures on Instagram with captions like ‘Cinco de Drinko’, which is super offensive in my book,” Wilson said. “Mexican culture is so much more than that, and it really hurts to see it reduced to just drinking and partying.”