5 Cinco de Mayo Activities That Are Culturally Appropriate
Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, is one of the biggest Mexican American celebrations in the world. It’s also a controversial one, with many people who have little or no ties to Mexican culture taking advantage of the party atmosphere. But there are ways you can honor Mexican and Mexican American heritage on Cinco de Mayo (and all year round) that will enhance your understanding of this colorful culture and help provide perspective for why this day is significant beyond tacos and margaritas.
1Understand the History
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day — that’s on September 16. According to History.com, the holiday commemorates how Mexico’s army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Chicano activists in the 1960s brought the holiday back into mainstream culture as a way to raise awareness for how Indigenous Mexicans took control over European invaders.
As the years went on, the day became more commercialized and an excuse for bars and restaurants to capitalize on tacos and tequila, leaving much of the historical significance and heritage out. Still, many Mexican American communities identify with the history and events, making it more widely celebrated in the U.S. than in Mexico itself.
2Check Out a Culturally Appropriate Event
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in beautiful ways throughout communities where Mexican Americans live. Many cities that share Mexican heritage (such as San Diego, Phoenix, and San Antonio) put on parades, festivals, arts and crafts showcases, and more. If your town lacks these kinds of events, you can tune in to a virtual one. Check your local event listings to see what’s available, or watch this virtual Cinco de Mayo celebration held in Detroit.
3Support Mexican Businesses
According to the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report, the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34 percent over the last 10 years in the U.S. This includes many Mexican-owned businesses that exist in your own communities, as well as those that contribute their goods and services nationwide. Etsy also features a wide variety of Mexican and Mexican American shop owners you can support, such as MundoLatinx and VivaLaCooltura, to name a few.
4Honor Mexican Art and Culture
Most cities have one or more institutes dedicated to Mexican or Latino culture, such as the Mexic‐Arte Museum in Austin, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, or the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
It’s also easy to acquaint yourself with important figures in the arts through resources like the Mexican American Art Since 1848 database, which contains over 20,000 images from cultural institutions around the country, making the history of Mexican American art accessible to all. Spotify has also created a playlist dedicated to rising voices in regional Mexico. Anyone can listen to Los Que Mandan and experience new tracks by the latest generation of Mexican singers and songwriters.
5Make a Mexican Meal
Tacos and quesadillas are a great place to start, but there is so much more to Mexican cuisine. Try this recipe for albondigas soup, a flavorful comfort meal, grilled pork tenderloin in charred-chile adobo, or crispy, airy sopaipillas.
Agua frescas are also a fantastic way to explore the tastes of Mexico, which is where the U.S. imports most of its agricultural produce from. According to Mely Martinez, who lived in Mexico, moved to the U.S., and now blogs at Mexico in My Kitchen, agua frescas are “a mix of water, fruits, sugar and ice cubes” that are sure to cool you down. Try making them with watermelon, cantaloupe, or mango.
The Bottom Line
Cinco de Mayo may have become commercialized by Anglo Americans in recent years, but its history makes it a significant day for many Mexican Americans in the U.S. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the day, whatever your heritage may be, and you’ll feel even more connected to Mexican culture as a result.