Mexican, and Mexican-American, People Should be First on Your Mind this Fifth of May

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by Sofia Mendez, Outreach and Diversity Manager at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago; Xavier Ramey; Kelsie Harriman

Cinco de Mayo is here, and many people and companies in the United States will be taking the chance to celebrate. While the fifth of May can be used as an opportunity to honor Mexican culture and acknowledge the importance of national sovereignty and freedom, many celebrations this Cinco de Mayo will not assume this form, or reflect and honor this history. Before donning a sombrero and enjoying your favorite tequila, consider your celebration carefully. What some individuals may interpret this as good-natured revelry, other people — especially individuals from Mexico, and those with Mexican heritage living in the US — may experience this quite differently. In order to make ensure that your festivities are not trivializing, marginalizing, appropriating, or erasing the true history of your Mexican neighbors, consider these things before going out to celebrate this Saturday.

The History

Contrary to what some may believe, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day, which occured on September 16, 1810, over 50 years before the events now celebrated on Cinco de May. In fact, Cinco de Mayo recognizes Mexico’s 1862 triumph over the French at the Battle of Puebla in the Franco-Mexican War, a literal and symbolic victory that greatly bolstered the Mexican resistance movement and contributed to the eventual withdrawal of France in 1867. In Mexico, the parades, parties, and sombreros of America’s May 5th do not take the same form. In fact, Cinco De Mayo is seldom celebrated outside the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s victory occurred.

An Informed Celebration

Before joining your coworkers, friends, or employees for Cinco de Mayo this Friday or Saturday, consider how your festivities may affect your Mexican neighbors, and their friends. Particularly in Chicago, where Latinos are the largest group of non-white individuals in the entire city, it is critical that one be aware of, attentive to, and supportive of the real and pressing needs facing Latinos in Chicago and throughout our country. When people mimic Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo, whether by drinking beers, wearing sombreros, or appropriating Spanish words or phrases, it can be experienced as uniformed or offensive by Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and their allies. This Cinco de Mayo, instead of participating in the the stereotypical May 5th celebrations, consider the following:

Get to know your Mexican neighbors, as well as their history. Spend time in our city’s vibrant Latinx communities such as Pilsen and Little Village. Listen. Ask questions. Build relationships.

Stand against gentrification. Many Latinx families and individuals are being priced out of their homes by new developments and raising rents. Stand against the displacement of Latinx communities by supporting organizations such as Pilsen Alliance and SOMOS that fight against the gentrification of Latino neighborhoods in Chicago

Support Immigrant and refugee rights: Donate and/or volunteer at organizations such as ICIRR and Enlace, organizations that support the rights and well-being of Latinx refugees and immigrants

Advance equity in employment and labor for Latinos and other minorities: Support organizations such as the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative that promote the creation of stable, living wage jobs for Latinos and other marginalized populations

A New Conversation

If you do find yourself at a Cinco de Mayo party this weekend, use the opportunity to model a gracious awareness about what Cinco de Mayo is, what it is not, and what people can do to authentically celebrate and support Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Particularly if you look around your office or place of celebration and see few Latinx person (or none), consider that there may be something structurally exclusive about your space. Celebrations that are spawned from a community’s culture and history should always include them. Whether you are with family, friends, or coworkers, don’t play into stereotypes and parodies. Rather, help everyone consider ways they can support issues that are actually important to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Chicago, uplift the importance of freedom fighting, and advance social equity for Latinx persons at home and abroad.

When you get back to the office on Monday morning, keep the conversation going. Take active steps to increase equity and inclusion for Latinx individuals in your workplace–if they are there. Consider and be sensitive to the Latinx people in your organization who may be enduring social, political, and financial marginalization due to wage disparities, xenophobia (see: today’s immigration debates and nationalistic culture). Give your attention, respect, and support to the Latinx community not only if/when you celebrate, but also when you vote, donate, and consider celebrating what a community produces (culture, food, drink, etc.) without celebrating as the producers would encourage.

May you enjoy a very Justice Informed celebration, this weekend, Monday morning, and always.

Xavier RameyComment