How to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Without Being a Total Jerk

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on May 4, 2015.

Cinco de Mayo is observed annually on May 5, the anniversary of a battle victory in 1862 against French forces.

May 5 is Not Mexican Independence Day

Mexico had already gained independence in 1821. But since the country was deeply in debt to several countries, including France, Napoleon III of France decided to invade Mexico with his army in 1862. The French army was the most famous in the world, while the Mexican army had only ill-trained and impoverished soldiers.

Nevertheless, on May 5, 1862, in the city of Puebla, those Mexican soldiers fought against the much stronger French army — and won.

That sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived. France returned with more troops and took over Mexico City.

The French installed Maximiliano and Carlota, two Austrians, as the leaders of the country. It wasn’t until 1867 that Benito Juarez took control of his country again.

If Cinco de Mayo celebrates just one day in which the Mexican army triumphed over the French army, why is it so popular?

The answer is that it really isn’t — at least not in Mexico. The Mexican Day of Independence is celebrated on September 16, a far more significant date.

How Is Cinco De Mayo Celebrated?

Mexicans don’t celebrate this day much — except in the city of Puebla, where the original battle took place. Not only is the city a UNESCO World Heritage Center – thanks to its preserved 16th and 17th century cathedrals — it’s also considered Mexico’s gastronomic capital.

There’s a massive parade in Puebla, where thousands of locals gather and dress as French and Mexican soldiers to reenact the war. After the Mexican troops win, celebrations begin with music, dancing and food.

Mexico City also hosts a big parade with dancing, singing and reenactments. Almost everyone is adorned in long, flowing dresses or traditional Mexican pant suits with a bright sombrero.

But that’s pretty much it as far as celebrations in Mexico.

For Mexicans living in the U.S. — especially in California — Cinco de Mayo has become a time to celebrate the Mexican national heritage. And of course gringos love a party, so for them, Cinco de Mayo has become an excuse to eat Mexican food and drink margaritas.

Just as many people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with absolutely no knowledge of who this fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary was, many party-loving Americans embrace the idea of Cinco de Mayo as a drinking holiday — without a clue as to what this date actually stands for.

How to Celebrate May 5 Without Being a Total Jerk

In the interest of helping such people avoid cultural appropriation and other inappropriate gestures, I asked some Mexican friends what they find most offensive about how Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Here are the top five they came up with:

1. The absolute worst Mexican stereotype is the fake mustache, large and curly, planted on the face and usually accompanied by much laughter — and a whole lot of beer.

2. The second worst stereotype is that extra-wide-brimmed sombrero — the kind that no Mexicans actually wear. Pretty much the only place you’ll see these are at tourist traps in Mexico, or on returning travelers at airports.

3. If you don’t speak Spanish, why would you think that adding ‘o’ to a word makes it Spanish? This is no better than the belief held by many English-speakers traveling to other countries who feel that if only they speak their language loud enough, everyone will understand them. “Drink-o” and “Beer-o” are not Spanish words; they just make you look like a jerk when you say them.

4. By the same token, yelling “Arriba, Arriba!” or “Ay! Ay! Ay!” in random fashion makes no sense, and it’s offensive. This is not how Mexicans behave.

5. The biggest complaint from my Mexican friends was about the total ignorance that people display about Mexico and Mexicans — and the hypocrisy of many Americans. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo by donning fake mustaches and hats and demeaning the Spanish language turns Mexicans into “The Other” people, not like us. And that only helps to justify racist immigration laws and calling all Mexicans “illegal immigrants.”

Plus, making a mockery of someone’s culture is cruel and sad.

So let’s all enjoy Cinco de Mayo, remember what we are celebrating — and not embarrass ourselves by indulging in ignorant stereotyping.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

Georgina M
Georgina Elizab M11 months ago


Leo C
Leo C11 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Chrissie R
Chrissie R11 months ago

Some people will use any excuse to be a jerk!!

Magdalen B
Magdalen B11 months ago

I suppose the big difference between the Mexicans and the French was that the farmers were fighting for their own fields even if they were untrained.

Magdalen B
Magdalen B11 months ago

I agree there's almost as much racial stereotyping as is seen on 17th March and not only then..

Chad A
Chad Anderson11 months ago

Thank you.

Monica Chongtham
Monica Chongtham11 months ago


Nena C
Nena C11 months ago

doesn't effect us not into it esp since MX wanted TX and ancestors died trying to make it a Republic, why celebrate someone else's whatever.......