If you live or have spent any significant amount of time in the United States, you are probably well-acquainted with our tradition of stealing other countries’ traditions. This usually ends one of two ways: in a hot mess of cultural appropriation (see: the lu’au), or in a hot mess of could-be-cultural-appreciation-but-nobody-actually-knows-why-they’re-daydrinking-on-a-Tuesday. Cinco de Mayo falls in the last category, but before you lick-shot-lime that Cuervo, let’s take a look at why we’re celebrating.
Myth No. 1: Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day
Americans so closely link the celebration of battle victory with their Fourth of July that it’s easy for them to assume every other battle victory celebration is also an Independence Day. That’s not the case with Cinco de Mayo. The Mexican victory over the French in the 1862 Battle of Puebla commemorates the strength and cunning of the Mexican troupes, who were outnumbered 3:1. Mexican Independence Day, on the other hand, is celebrated every September 16 and commemorates independence from the Spanish colonialists in 1810.
Myth No. 2: All Mexicans Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
Not only is Cinco de Mayo not even a federal holiday in Mexico, but many historians concur that the “holiday” actually originated in the United States, with Civil War-era Mexican Americans. The largest annual Cinco de Mayo celebration takes place in Los Angeles. By and large in Mexico, the 5th of May is just another day. Most celebrating takes place in the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred. In parades, tattered Mexican army uniforms represent the unlikelihood of Mexico’s victory.
Myth No. 3: Quesadillas and Tequila are Sacred Traditions
In the U.S., any “traditions” involving alcohol and food smothered in cheese should automatically be suspect. If you’re striving for an “authentic” dish from Puebla, try mole poblano. As for the tequila, it can technically only be produced in Jalisco and other limited regions in which Puebla is not included.
Myth No. 4: Mariachi for Cinco de Mayo
Mariachi is a complex music and dance tradition that, just like tequila, has its roots in Jalisco. Mariachi has nothing, historically speaking, to do with Pueblo. Its introduction into Cinco de Mayo celebrations is courtesy of the American masses’ geographical amnesia. Puebla itself is a historical stronghold for classical music composition, including operas, symphonies, and choral music.
Myth No. 5: It’s Celebrated the Same Way Everywhere
If you live in Chandler, Arizona, you might celebrate the day by attending a chihuahua race. Chihuahuas are also featured in Longmont, Colorado, where there are dog beauty contests. Cinco de Mayo has been exported to other countries, too. In Sydney, Australia, there is a city-wide margarita showdown. And in Vancouver, you can party sky-high at their annual skydiving event.
Now you know, and now you have some trivia to take to your marg parties tonight. Bottoms up!