Unfortunately, a lot of people in the United States think Cinco de Mayo is a holiday centered around going out and eating tacos and ordering too many margaritas. That's because they probably don't actually know what the holiday stands for, or how to spend Cinco de Mayo productively. How can you do a holiday justice if you don't take the time to understand it? And how can you ensure you're not appropriating any cultures if you don't understand the cultural significance in the first place?
Sure, it's great to celebrate Mexican culture in America, but Mexican culture is a lot more than tacos and salty cocktails — obviously. If you're not of Mexican descent and you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the first step is taking the time to understand what it is. That's fair, right?
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory against French forces on May 5, 1862. The battle was lead by Emperor Napoleon III in Puebla. France had invaded Mexico, hoping to take over and implement its own political and cultural interests. Even though the French army was seriously prepared with weaponry and soldiers (the French had about 6,000 while Mexico only had about 2,000), the French were defeated after only one day of fighting. And even though, later on, France was able to succeed at overrunning Puebla and conquering Mexico City, the day was celebrated as a reminder of Mexican pride and solidarity. Most importantly, it reminded the Mexican people that they had the power and strength to stand up for themselves.
Families in Mexico and hispanic populations in the United States still do recognize the date as a day to appreciate the power to overcome obstacles in the face of adversity. However, since it landed on the American calendar, it's taken on an Americanized significance that in many ways detracts from its own purpose: to believe in the power of the Mexican people.
So, here are a few ways you can have a productive Cinco de Mayo. Hint: skip the margaritas, and put your energy toward something a bit more progressive.
Donate To The Mexican Cultural Institute Of New York
Whatever you can donate, whether it's a few bucks a month or one donation a year, help the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York promote and protect Mexican culture in the United States, in addition to creating programs that enhance local communities.
Volunteer With Border Angels
Give your time to a Border Angel site by helping to maintain water stations, donating food or clothes, or helping at events by running a booth.
Donate To MALDEF
The Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund is a Latino civil rights organization that offers both legal advocacy to Latin-American communities, and education and support.
Support local youths by becoming a community organizer at the Immigrant Youth Coalition. Be a big sister, be a teacher, be a shoulder. Help those who cannot stand up for their own rights.