Campus clubs choose not to celebrate Cinco de Mayo
While cantinas and mercados throughout West Los Angeles prepare for Cinco de Mayo festivities, the members of Santa Monica College’s Association of Latin American Students will be doing very little to acknowledge the holiday. The reason, ALAS says, is that Cinco de Mayo has lost its historical value, and has become nothing more than a ploy to commercialize a profitable drinking holiday under the guise of cultural diversity.
“Here in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has been taken out of context,” says ALAS president Andrea Avilla. “People only associate it with alcohol and barbeque, when they don’t know what it’s really about. Even within the Spanish-speaking community, the only ads that mention Cinco de Mayo are beer commercials. The holiday is being exploited for commercial purposes.”
Avilla claims that without any historical connotation, the holiday has lost its cultural significance, and is therefore nothing more than marketing. “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day: everyone celebrates it and no one knows why. I personally have no idea what St. Patrick’s Day is for, but I’m not Irish. I’m not Mexican either, I’m Colombian, so I don’t even know the full history of Cinco de Mayo, but it’s advertised as a Latino holiday,” Avilla said.
Avilla said that while some of her Mexican friends participate in the holiday, they know how culturally unimportant it is in their homeland.
“They celebrate it here when they don’t even celebrate it in their native country,” Hernandez said, adding, “They celebrate more on Cinco de Mayo than they do on Mexico’s Independence Day, and our Independence Day is a much bigger deal.”
Originally celebrated as the anniversary of the Mexican army’s victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, Cinco de Mayo would prove inconsequential when the French returned to conquer Mexico just weeks later.
SMC journalism professor Sharyn Obsatz interviewed Claudio Alvarez, originally from Puebla, for the Press Enterprise in 2004 and found that Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated in that particular Mexican state and not considered a major holiday in the rest of the country.
“While beer and tequila sales flow in the United States, it’s a dry holiday in Puebla…People can be arrested or fined for buying and selling alcohol,” said Alvarez in the article. This fact highlights the disparity between the original Puebla holiday and its present American incarnation.
Despite its transformation from a memorial holiday to a festive one, some Mexican students adamantly support Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Hispanic culture, whether or not people understand the complete history behind it.
Mexican student Beronica Corona disagrees with the position held by ALAS. While she admits that the holiday has been corrupted into a marketing gimmick, she maintains that “so has every other American holiday.” Corona claims that canceling Cinco de Mayo only robs students of a distinctly Latino cultural holiday.
“What [Latino] students should be doing is celebrating it in their own way, celebrating it the right way, to educate people on what Cinco de Mayo is really about: the tradition, the history,” said Corona.