The inspiration for this blog post came from an event I attended 2 years ago. It's literally been on my mind since that day because even in a city as diverse and populated as Atlanta, GA, my eyeballs were still harassed with the image of white people appropriating and de-humanizing Mexican culture.
Now let me take a moment to inject some present day context to how messed up appropriating Mexicans on May 5th really is. Today is May 4th, 2020. We are in the heat of a global epidemic. We would be massively f*cked without all the undocumented immigrants keeping our grocery shelves stocked and keeping our food in countless restaurant kitchens cooked.
Even though these undocumented workers have been demonized over the decades for seeking better opportunities in the USA, they are now deemed as essential workers by the US government. They are literally feeding us. (For the record, less than half of those undocumented immigrants are Mexican.) Also for the record, there are farm workers that are US citizens and there are undocumented immigrants that are not Mexican, nor farm workers.
Now if you're reading this, you would probably agree that all the crap trump (aka patito donald) says about Mexicans and undocumented immigrants are straight up lies. Yet there's still a widespread misunderstanding between the USA's love affair with Mexican THINGS vs. loving and caring about Mexican PEOPLE.
So back to my little story in 2018.... I have a lot similar to this but THIS one in particular was the most recent and although I've made peace with it, I think it's something we can all learn from.
2 years ago, I went to an event hosted at a local brewery to network with the local water engineering industry. The purpose of this event was to raise funds for a nonprofit based dedicated to providing water aid to multiple Latin American countries. Just so happens, the event was held on May 5th. Being a Latina woman, a Mexican one at that, I felt anxiety and hesitation for May 5th is Cinco de Mayo. Ever since 2005, when I moved from my hometown(s) in Southern & Baja California to Georgia, being Mexican-American in a conservative state is something I’ve struggled with, been bullied for, and questioned on. ("but you don’t even LOOK Mexican!?!”) .
When I got there me and my coworkers got beers and started chatting with folks, then I noticed they were serving Mexican food for dinner. “Thank God”, I thought, “I'm famished." But then I noticed something else: in a photo booth in the corner there were some props that appeared to be a sombrero, piñata, fake mustaches, and other “Mexican themed party gear”.
People were laughing all about it, taking pictures, and having a jolly ole’ time pretending to be Mexican.
I was instantly filled with a deep, deep sense of disappointment. I thought I’d be able to enjoy this event worry-free, being in a diverse metro-area of over 6 million people, 5.2% of which are Latinx. I thought/ hoped the organizers of this event would think twice before appropriating Mexican culture in such an obvious way.
I had to remind myself that these people didn’t intentionally mean to be harmful or racist just so I wouldn’t walk up there in an angry mess and burn those photo props to the ground. But let’s be real- it does not matter if there was no harmful or racist intent. As my friend Ambar says- "Impact over intent".
I get it, we’re human, we make mistakes, context is a thing. But there have been several cases of this occurring all around the country every single year. Even with all our diversity committees, sensitivity trainings, and heightened “wokeness” this still occurs today, yes even though it’s 2020, and we need to shed light on events like this and discuss the deeper root.
We MUST reflect and take ownership for our actions.
Let’s assume that you already know Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico’s National Independence Day. (Hint: it’s actually Sept 16 and if y’all really loved Mexico as much as you claimed you’d celebrate that too). May 5th actually commemorates the “Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, in 1862”. And our actual Independence Day, September 16th, commemorates the Cry of Dolores, (essentially a proclamation in the City of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato) which began the war of Mexican independence from Spain.
Let’s also assume that, like 99.99% of the USA, you love Mexican culture- the food, the beautiful beaches you vacation at, the beer/ tequila/ mezcal. (Sidenote: did you know Americans drink more beer on May 5th than during the Super Bowl or St. Patrick's day?! )
Maybe you’ve even been on a mission trip or service based trip to Mexico. Or donated to a Mexican charity or a non-profit that supports provides aid for the long laundry list of issues of that country.
With all that in mind, there’s one day a year where a f*ckton of people think it’s “okay” and “funny” to dress up like a Mexican. As if it’s some f*cking costume. They decide to take pictures with sombreros (which only a small fraction of us actually wear btw) and put on fake mustaches and yell “Ay caramba!” or “Ole!” which originated in Spain for the record.
The problem is...Americans have imported Mexican culture in every way, shape, and form but deported the people. Now more than ever, the normalization of characterizing Mexicans in this country is so disheartening. Especially in this country, we have a terrible precedent for literally and figuratively consuming Mexican culture and exporting and dehumanizing the people as if we were some commercial good.
Meanwhile thousands of Mexican immigrants are forced to go to work because they are deemed essential. They must go to work because their family depends on their wages. They must expose themselves to the potential of contracting COVID-19, when they might not even have health insurance. This is the reality for countless Mexicans today (as well as non-Mexican BIPOC).
So YES, a small part of me is glad that the chronic appropriators are quarantined and can't go out to their local white-washed Mexican restaurant and pound margaritas while toting a sombrero.
In the spirit of #StayAtHome and celebrating Mexican culture to empower ACTUAL MEXICANS here's a couple recommendations I have for Cinco de Mayo festivities:
1. Educate yourself. Read an authentic book written by an actual Mexican about the immigrant experience. I just finished The Distance Between Us By Reyna Grande and HIGHLY recommend it. (Click here for more suggestions)
2. Donate to organizations working for immigrant rights. A couple that come to mind are Mijente who fight to #AbolishIce and invest in opportunities for the Latinx movement and RAICES (The Refugee And Immigrant Center for Education and legal Services) who are a driving force in fighting the wrongful detention of immigrant children at the border #NoKidsInCages
3. Support your local AUTHENTIC Mexican business. (No, Chipotle/ Taco Bell don't count) Try getting delivery from a local Mexican restaurant. And if they're not open due to COVID-19, donate to their business (or get a gift card if they're offering those!)
4. Celebrate responsibly. OK just to clarify I don't HATE Cinco de Mayo. I have a viscerally negative reaction to non-Mexicans appropriating my culture and de-humanizing my fellow Mexicanxs. So if you're gonna celebrate- put away the sarape, the sombrero, & the fake mustache. Stop calling it "Cinco de Drinko". And call people out when they are being appropriating A-holes about it. #AccountabilityRules
As my fellow paisas would say, ¡No seas güey!