Cinco De Mayo: What actually happened

On Tuesday, May 5, El Centro Latino put on a presentation and performance to help students and faculty at Bellevue College learn more about the history and significance of Cinco De Mayo on stage in the cafeteria at 11:30 a.m. Then, it continued in C130 with a slideshow presentation by Henry Amaya, the Assistant Director of Multicultural Services. Afterwards, everyone who had stayed for the presentation was invited to eat homemade Mexican food prepared by members of the club.

The students performed a reenactment of the Battle of Puebla, won by Mexicans against the French in 1862. Actors wore sombreros and mustaches, but at the end of the reenactment it was clarified that there was no stereotyping in their choice of costume. It was said that many men who fought in the Battle of Puebla were farmerswho often wore sombreros and had mustaches. The actors onstage engaged in a mock battle, using bananas as weapons. Afterward, they took a group bow, and asked for audience questions and comments.

Rita Nansikombi, a student who had also narrated the reenactment, volunteered to share what she had learned. “I didn’t know what Cinco de Mayo was about until today,” said Nansikombi. She had formerly mistaken it for the Day of the Dead.

“Now I know the correct history,” Nansikombi said.

Fernando Perez, a BC English teacher, wrote a poem about the holiday’s meaning, which he shared with the audience. “Celebrate Cinco de Mayo by standing up against your oppressors,” said Perez.
In Mexico, most of the Cinco de Mayo celebration is done around the area of Puebla, where the actual battle took place. Amaya said that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated much more in the U.S. It is celebrated out of context, though, often mistakenly perceived as Mexican Independence day. Amaya made sure to emphasize that Cinco de Mayo is neither Independence Day, nor the drinking holiday it is stereotyped as.

The liquor industry commercialized the holiday, which took the focus off its true history and cultural significance. “Suddenly, it becomes about beer,” said Amaya. Corona used to be a Mexican-owned company but no longer is. Yet, it is marketed as the “party beer of Cinco de Mayo,” said Amaya.

Cinco de Mayo is seen as a promotional opportunity for retailers as well. Businesses exploit stereotypes of Mexican people as they exploit the holiday. “It doesn’t have to do with historical perspective. It has to do with selling a brand.”

Most holidays are commercialized by businesses in the U.S., and Amaya says that marketers “must be observant and be more careful” when it comes to utilizing a holiday as a vehicle for a product or brand campaign.

“Any time people are stereotyped in any way it is degrading to the individual, their culture, and to their history,” said Amaya. He believes the holiday should still be celebrated, but in a respectful way that puts the true meaning of the holiday at the forefront.