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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Column: Five of May

Cinco de Mayo, or Cinco de Drinko, as it’s lovingly called by some, is an American tradition celebrating our ability to celebrate anything. Together, those two phrases translate to “May I drink five times more than usual?” or something. Last week my friends and I answered that question with an enthusiastic “¡Sí!”
I was expecting a Picnic Day-like fervor on this special day, but there was an air of reverence around town. People waited until after noon to sip on tequila, open their Mexican brews, eat chips and salsa and sport the traditional canopy-sized sombrero. It’s the kind of restraint that shows a collective, respectful effort to truly understand another culture. Just more evidence that as a nation we are more progressive and empathetic than we’re given credit for.
This holiday is a rambunctious nod of approval to our southern neighbors, like the one we give every March 17 to the little green men that live across the pond. If as a culture you’re feeling a little underappreciated by the stars and stripes, just give us a date, show us how your citizens dress and we’ll love you for the rest of our drunken lives.
My friends and I honored Mexican Independence Day by grilling sausages, because fuck making sense. To make up for it, we had chips and salsa and drank Pacífico, a beer that got its start in Mazatlán, Mexico where it was invented in 1900 by Germans. Because, again, one does not simply make sense. We also played the customary Cinco de Mayo drinking games: baseball, flip cup and Beirut.
I’m going to stop there. Depending on your taste for history and sense for sarcasm, what you just read either made you mad, made you laugh or described your Saturday. More likely, you don’t think I’m funny, but you’re mad I’m making fun of a holiday. I get it. Most of us just want to have a good time and we get upset when douchebags like me distract us from doing that. But that’s kinda my point. If we weren’t so distracted with having fun, maybe we could learn a few things.
I apologize for the history lesson I’m about to give, but bear with me because it should be important. As some of you know, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day. That’s September 16, when Mexico broke free from Spanish rule in 1810. May 5 is the day Mexico defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Still, Cinco de Mayo isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico. This is where things get interesting.
Cinco de Mayo gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, partly because of the Good Neighbor Policy. The U.S. government wanted the holiday to amiably connect Mexican and American cultures. Chicano activists also embraced it as a way to express Mexican American identity. It became a bicultural event where Anglo-Americans could actively learn about Mexican culture.

All this contributed to an exciting time for sociopolitical progress. But in just a couple decades, commercialism turned it all to crap.

Some blame the 1980s for making this community-building exercise a community drinkathon. Corporations capitalized on the increasing Hispanic market, turning Cinco de Mayo into an alcohol-fueled vehicle to transport money into their pockets. I don’t have to expand much on this. Just reread the first few paragraphs up top and you’ll get the picture.

I’m not mad people in America are celebrating another nation’s holiday. That can be a good thing. But we’re not even doing that. I don’t know what we’re doing. Not long ago, this holiday was productive, but somewhere along the way we lost ourselves.

Instead of serving as a bridge between cultures, Cinco de Mayo has become a sign we hang, a coaster where we rest our Corona and limes. It’s something we throw away on the sixth. Considering some political conversations we’re having, I hope we soon find ourselves celebrating this Mexican holiday the way past generations of Americans wanted us to: sharing not only drinks, but history and empathy as well.

He doesn’t always suck the fun out of holidays, but when he does, NOLAN SHELDON can be reached at nosheldon@ucdavis.edu.

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