The celebration of Cinco de Mayo

Behind the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo and why it should be a community-based celebration in America rather than stereotypes and excessive drinking

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Kyran Berlin

A woman dances the Jarabe Tapatio, a traditional Mexican dance, in front of the Mexican flag. (Photograph courtesy of Brendan Lally, CC, Illustration by Kyran Berlin / Golden Gate Xpress)

For those unfamiliar with simple words in the Spanish language, Cinco de Mayo refers to the fifth of May in Spanish. It is a Mexican heritage celebration from the victory over France by the outnumbered Mexican Army. Also known as Battle of Puebla Day, as the victory occurred in Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo started as a way to embrace Mexican heritage and is now celebrated by Americans with parties, parades and Mexican-inspired food and drinks. The festivities first took place in Puebla, Mexico, and the tradition has spread to other parts of Mexico and North America.

“I believe that the significance of this day ties into a broader conversation about the significance of unity as Americans,” said Evodio Walle, president of San Francisco Bay Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a chance to come together.”

The U.S. celebrations first originated in California in 1863. It evolved throughout the years to honor Mexican culture and bring together Chicano communities.

Although many of the festivals and events have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are certainly alternative ways to go about celebrating.

“It should be celebrated through family, which is one of the aspects of Hispanic culture,” Walle said. “The smaller, local celebrations will happen in the form of people frequenting areas where they might find cultural affairs associated, such as the Mission district in the city.”

Community-based organizations embrace the cultural representation behind days such as Cinco de Mayo. It is highly encouraged that if you are looking to attend such organizations to be mindful of health and safety guidelines during the pandemic.