Cultural Appropriation of Cinco de Mayo In America by Paige Schaffer

As many of us know, Cinco de Mayo is a widely celebrated and commercialized day in the United States. Over the past couple decades it has come to represent a day of partying, drinking, eating Mexican food and wearing sombreros. If you ask what Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates, some people will not know at all, and a lot of people will say it is the Mexican Independence Day. Unfortunately, this is completely incorrect. The Mexican Independence Day is September 16th, and Cinco de Mayo was actually the day that Mexico gained a victory against the French army in the Battle of Puebla (which consequently did not involve gaining independence at all). In fact, the day is not widely celebrated in Mexico, and the majority of native Mexicans do not do anything out of the ordinary on the 5th of May. Rather, Cinco de Mayo has become more of a mythicized  “holiday” so that alcohol and food companies could sell more product. So the question is, is this cultural appropriation? In the article by Baker, she gives a more concrete definition of the term that most people can only loosely define. “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” She goes on to explain that this can be language, dance, music, dress, cuisine, religious symbols and more. Pertaining to Cinco de Mayo, that seems closely related to what Americans do. They copy Mexican food, dress or music and then twist it to celebrate something unrelated to the culture itself. This cultural appropriation of the Mexican day, that is only significantly celebrated in the actual city of Puebla, has blinded Americans to its true meaning and turned the Mexican culture into a representation of drinking and partying while donning traditional Mexican headwear or clothing that has nothing to do with this battle in history. This analysis will look into a variety of media portrayals of Cinco de Mayo and how they reinforce cultural appropriation, along with stereotypes of the Mexican heritage.

These two articles, one from the Huffington Post and one from the Portland State Vanguard, discuss the celebration of Cinco de Mayo both in the United States and in Mexico. Emily Lakehomer, from the Vanguard, points out an event put on in Seattle in an attempt to break a world record for “most people wearing sombreros”.  Events such as these further the idea of appropriation and even condone it. In Daniel Cubias’s article, he explains the fact that the holiday is not relevant to most Hispanic cultures, even in Mexico. He goes on to pose the question of whether or not it is considered disrespectful to native Mexicans to adopt this holiday.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-cubias/does-anybody-know-what-ci_b_196792.html

http://psuvanguard.com/opinion/cinco-de-cultural-appropriation/

So why celebrate a holiday and adopt or portray a culture that you know nothing about? This video from Jimmy Kimmel addresses the astounding number of Americans who do not even know when “CINCO DE MAYO” is. Pay particular attention to one girl who even goes on to say that the day exists solely for drinking. She does not even mention Mexico or anything pertaining to its culture. A variety of racial backgrounds were interviewed in this video, and across the board none of them seem to know the real significance or even the day, despite the fact that it is highly advertised in the media and participated in around the country.

Not only does Cinco de Mayo in America allow cultural appropriation of Mexican culture, it also does a great job of objectifying Hispanic, specifically Mexican, women. A holiday centered around drinking is of course going to call for beer company ads. Beer ads are known for using women and their bodies to try to sell product, and this day gives them an excuse to use Mexican women in the same objectification standard:

Cinco-De-Mayo-II cinco3

In both pictures, we see barely clothed women or women with no clothes on. In the Miller Lite ad, we are expected to assume that the women pictured are of Hispanic/Mexican descent. But are they? Or did they find women who fit the “Mexican” standard without actually having Mexican heritage? Either way, they are dressed in traditionally inspired Mexican clothing and headwear and put on display to sell alcohol. Nowhere in this ad does it appreciate or even mention the actual meaning behind the day itself. The Corona uses a cartoon character, but none-the-less she is perceived as a Mexican woman, with no clothes on holding the beer bottles. This ad also does not allude to any significance of Mexican heritage other than the ethnicity of the female.

To conclude, Cinco de Mayo in America is a widely expressed form of cultural appropriation. In the article from Unsettling America, the author attempts to draw a line between “appropriation” and “appreciation”. Appropriation is categorized as a by-product of oppression or imperialism by a dominant culture over a subordinate culture and it usually draws in a profit. Not only has Mexico been a subordinating culture for years, but the U.S. markets also make an enormous profit off of alcohol and other sales for the day. None of which go to or benefit Mexico or native people in any way. People celebrating this holiday are not educating themselves on the history behind it or appreciating the culture it represents. Rather, they are merely imitating it for one day every year.

Sources:

Baker, Katie. “A Much-Needed Primer on Cultural Appropriation.” Jezebel. N.p. 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.

“Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?” Unsettling America.” WordPress. 16 Sep. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.

Cubias, Daniel. “Does Anybody Know What Cinco de Mayo is All About?” The Blog. Huffington Post. 5 May 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

Lakehomer, Emily. “Cinco de Cultural Appropriation?” VG. Portland State Vanguard. 14 May 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

Jay, John. “The Giant Panther Ponders Cinco de Mayo.” The Giant Panther. N.p. n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

Harper, Jim. “Viva El Gran Sabor.” Photograph. Flikr. 9 June 2008. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

Jimmy Kimmel Live. “When is Cinco de Mayo?” YouTube. N.p. 3 May 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

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