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Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day

As previously established, Richmonders LOVE any reason for a festival or celebration.

Next on the list: Cinco de Mayo!! Woohoo!

For a lot of people, this day will be filled with eating delicious Mexican food and drinking delicious Mexican beer. But do they know why they are celebrating? I’m guessing that more often than not, the answer is no.

So here is a little history for you.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The French were occupying Mexico in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War and the Reform War (a civil war in Mexico) because Mexico was so bankrupt that they had stopped paying debts owed to foreign countries. France took the opportunity to try and establish an empire in Mexico. Defeating the French at Puebla was a huge morale boost to the Mexican people, and though it did not actually lead to them winning the war, it inspired Mexico. It is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is in September.

Today, the holiday is celebrated in the US as it has taken on a symbolic meaning for those with Mexican heritage. It has become a way to celebrate Mexican culture with food, dancing, and music.

It is a wonderful thing to celebrate different cultures, but I encourage people to do so with respect.

Too often we see holidays that should help us appreciate diversity turn into drunken debacles that unintentionally mock the very culture that should be celebrated.

There is a big difference between celebration and appropriation.

Celebration involves the appreciation of a rich and diverse culture’s food and music and yes, even drinks! Appropriation involves negative stereotyping and ridicule, like drawing on fake mustaches and wearing sombreros and chugging beer (pssstttt…there are other, better Mexican beers than Corona).

On Cinco de Mayo, my family will be spending the day together, enjoying tamales and churros and a variety of salsas. There will definitely be margaritas and palomas and chilis. We will talk to our kids about their heritage and watch The Book of Life and Coco.

If you really want to celebrate a holiday, I encourage you to learn about it first. It’s fiesta time!

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