From, If we Knew our History Series from Teaching a People’s History, a Zinn Education Project

Rethinking Cinco de Mayo

By Sudie Hofmann

I recently came across a flier in an old backpack of my daughter’s: Wanted: Committee Chairs for this Spring’s Cinco de Mayo All School Celebration. The flier was replete with cultural props including a sombrero, cactus tree, donkey, taco,

The week before the event, I received a phone call from the PTSA coordinator. They wanted my help and I was elated. My joy, however, soon turned to disappointment: She wanted to know if I knew anyone who could “do the Mexican hat dance.” I’m not kidding. No. I did not.

maracas, and chili peppers. Seeing this again brought back the moment when, years earlier, my daughter had handed the flier to me, and I’d thought, “Oh, no.” The local K-6 elementary school’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) was sponsoring a stereotypical Mexican American event. There were no Chicana/o students, parents, or staff members who I was aware of in the school community and I was concerned about the event’s authenticity. I presumed the PTSA meant well, and was attempting to provide a multicultural experience for students and families, but it seemed they were likely to get it wrong.

Unfortunately, the holiday has been commercialized by the food and liquor industry and in the United States, Cinco de Mayo (similar to St. Patrick’s Day) has become an excuse to imbibe spirits and help Corona and Dos Equis beer companies improve their market share. Bars offer half-price margaritas and Tex-Mex fast-food chains see an increase in sales while sombreros and piñatas fly off the shelves of big-box party supply stores. Chicana/o youth are exposed to strong alcohol marketing campaigns with damaging stereotypes. Some groups have resisted, sponsoring Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo (Cinco de Mayo with Pride) celebrations. These nonalcoholic events focus on heritage and empowerment rather than on Mexican hat dances and drinking games.

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