There’s something kind of fascinating about watching people totally disregard cultures that aren’t their own until it’s convenient for them.
I’m willing to bet that a bunch of people don’t know the actual reason behind celebrating Cinco de Mayo, for example. Or they think it’s a celebration of Mexican independence, which is actually Sept. 16.
The short version is that Cinco de Mayo is symbolic of the day the French tried to invade Mexico and were subsequently driven out.
The long version is that in 1861, Mexico was going through a bit of a financial crisis and Napoleon thought that it was a lovely day to expand his empire. They were successful at first and marched towards Puebla de Los Angeles, where then-President of Mexico, Benito Juárez, was waiting with an army of 2,000 men who were, by then, probably very angry with the French.
Mexico won, but the battle was more like a symbolic victory which gave the resistance movement a little bit of a confidence boost. Outside of Puebla, where the battle took place, it’s not really celebrated according to Independent.co.uk.
Cultural appropriation is obviously a problem, and there’s a slight issue with people celebrating a holiday without understanding its true meaning. I understand that this basically goes for any holiday now, but a lot of people know the origins of Thanksgiving or Christmas before consumerism took over and lead to people getting into fist-fights in Walmart parking lots.
Cinco de Mayo, specifically, is an interesting example for me because, outside of the actual place where the battle was held, it’s not really celebrated in Mexico. It’s like their Arbor Day. Alternatively, it’d be like celebrating a national holiday on the day of the Battle of Gettysburg. A second fourth of July, where we can all get drunk at 2 p.m. and throw elaborate, expensive parades in the name of Ulysses S. Grant.
To be fair, in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo seems more like a celebration of Mexican heritage, rather than a commemoration of a battle. This is also a tricky subject to handle because some may question whether it is possible to consider something as cultural appropriation if the group that’s allegedly being discriminated against hasn’t voiced their concerns.
St. Patrick’s Day has also becoming something that’s been misrepresented and blown up out of proportion so people have an excuse to get trashed. It was originally a celebration of St. Patrick converting the Irish from Paganism to Christianity. The three-leaf clover was used by St. Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans, and the day is associated with heavy drinking because the Catholic rules of eating and having alcohol during Lent are lifted for the day. I’m willing to bet that you didn’t know any of that until now because no one cares about the original meaning anymore either. Like Cinco de Mayo, the original intent of celebrating has been widely thrown away as an excuse to party and drink.
It’s cultural appropriation–members of a dominant culture, like the U.S., systematically oppress minority groups but also take elements from their cultures and adopt them as their own.
Holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are definitely interesting because of how huge they are in the U.S. compared to their native countries. They’re hardly worth celebrating in Ireland and Mexico, and even the original reasons people began celebrating them in the U.S. (to celebrate Mexican and Irish heritage) has been watered down. It’s become such a huge party here, but now people hardly know why they’re celebrating or think that it’s for all the wrong reasons. It’s slightly problematic, to say the least, and it wouldn’t hurt for people to know why the holiday exists in the first place (besides giving them an excuse to chug some margaritas at an office party).
Izzy Manzo can be contacted at email@example.com