Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo and White Privilege: Disposable Mexican "Culture"

Yes once again it's the 5th of May, which means that a bunch of ill informed white college students will dress up in sombreros and mustaches to drink and "celebrate" Mexican "culture". Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of the Battle of Puebla in which Mexicans threw off the shackles of the colonial oppression of the French in an unexpected but great victory. Yet surprisingly (or not) it has become yet another festival to celebrate white cultural appropriation.

Every other day of the year Mexicans are treated with disdain where they live in the United States. They are called "illegals" and increasing numbers of states are tightening immigration laws, deporting Mexican immigrants and tearing apart their families. Mexican laborers work in all of those low paid sectors that white Americans shy away from; everything from nanny work to picking crops for multinational corporations who pay them a fraction of what their labor is worth. The reality of being Mexican in America is a lot more than sombreros and fake mustaches.

White people continue to defend their right to "celebrate" racial stereotypes and drink the night away, and then in the morning cast off the "Mexican" garb and enjoy their whiteness again. Actual Mexican people in America don't have that luxury. In some states they have to live in fear of their parents or other relatives being harassed or deported, and even when they are natural born citizens of the US people will tell them to "go home", ask if they speak English, be rude when they speak Spanish, or assume that when they got into college it was not because of their natural talents but because of "affirmative action".

And let's not forget that Mexicans themselves don't really place that much importance on cinco de mayo and put more emphasis on September Independence day celebrations. It is more of an American holiday, and it is best to keep that in mind when celebrating, if you choose to celebrate at all. And read THIS and THIS if you are curious about how Mexican Americans feel about the holiday.

Instead of just drinking and eating American style tacos maybe pop open a book and learn about what the holiday means, and take some time to reflect on the real cultural heritage of Mexican Americans. Support campaigns to help Mexican American families fight unjust laws, and remember that it is possible to be respectful and also have fun.

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