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Cinco de Mayo, Celebrating Mexican Heritage

Cinco de Mayo literally means the fifth of May, much like the United State’s Independence Day is often called the Fourth of July. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day when Mexican forces defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in the Franco-Mexican War. It is also sometimes called Battle of Puebla Day. Interestingly, Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico but is often an excuse for major celebrations in the United States.

It’s All About Heritage

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become more about recognizing and celebrating Mexican heritage than about winning a battle long ago. People of Mexican descent enjoy sharing and experiencing their cultural roots on May 5th. It is especially popular in areas with extensive Mexican-American populations.

Avoid Misappropriating Cinco de Mayo

Unfortunately, every year some people turn Cinco de Mayo into an excuse to simply drink too many margaritas or Mexican beers and loading up on tacos. If you genuinely want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without being inappropriate, here are some tips:

Take some time to learn a bit about the actual celebration. It is not Mexican Independence Day (that happens in September). This day celebrates a victory over overwhelming forces by the Mexican people.

If you want to dine on Mexican food, look for a genuine, local restaurant with authentic recipes. You’ll be impressed with how much more flavorful authentic dishes are compared to Americanized, chain restaurant offerings.

Immerse yourself in Mexican culture through music. There are several styles of traditional music played all year round, but especially when it’s Cinco de Mayo. Listen to Mariachi, Tejano, Ranchera or Grupero music. Put together a play list of various types of Mexican music and get some maracas so you can add some rhythm of your own. Maracas are traditional Mexican instruments, as is the guitar.

After you’ve appreciated Mexican music, try learning some traditional dances for Cinco de Mayo, such as the Mexican Hat Dance, Salsa and Rumba. These are a great way for your friends to learn a bit more about the culture while doing something challenging and fun. The Mexican Hat Dance is one of the most well-known folk dances in Mexico. During this dance, a man and woman dance in imitation of a courtship ritual, and at one point the man throws his sombrero or hat on the floor. The couple then dances around it.

If you still want to have a Cinco de Mayo party, be sure your guests drink in moderation. Decorate your home with culturally accurate décor (visit your local multi-cultural district and discover beautiful decorations that are culturally appropriate and beautiful.

Mexican senorita in traditional skirt and embroidered blouse. She is holding a fan.
This beautiful, Mexican senorita costume features detailed embroidery on the blouse and a ribbon-trimmed, full skirt. It’s the perfect costume for when you’re doing traditional Mexican dances on Cinco de Mayo.

It’s a great idea to dress up in Mexican heritage clothing but avoid hurtful stereotypes. Women can celebrate Mexican culture by dressing in the brightly colored, traditional clothing of Mexican women. Or keep it simple by wearing green, white and red – the colors of the Mexican flag.

You can certainly celebrate Cinco de Mayo with your friends regardless of whether your own background is Mexican, but Halloween Empire asks that you keep in mind the day is about a military victory, not just about margaritas and beers.

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