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The Cultural Bridge of Cinco de Mayo

By Daniela Bardon

I never used to care much about the 5th of May. I knew that the battle of Puebla took place on that date but I had never really celebrated its anniversary. When I met my husband it was during the first week of May, and he was extremely excited that we would be celebrating Cinco de Mayo together. At the time, it was an interesting contradiction for me as I am Mexican and he is American, with absolutely no Mexican heritage.

After living in the United States for a few years, I finally understand why this day carries so much sentiment here. Cinco de Mayo gives Americans an opportunity to celebrate Mexican culture. Festivals are held in several states, especially in areas with high concentrations of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans; the largest celebrations are in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. In 2005, the United States Congress passed a resolution calling on the President to recognize the historical significance of the date. Presidents such as Bush and Obama held events at the White House featuring Mexican musicians and chefs to connect with the Latino community.  

I could go into all the details as to how the holiday became popular in the United States. I could talk about how in the Sixties the Chicano movement embraced it as a symbol of ethnic pride or how in the Nineties corporations began capitalizing on the fast growing and lucrative Latino market and seized the holiday to increase sales. I could complain about how some still confuse this rather minor holiday in Mexico with Mexican Independence Day, perhaps because Cinco de Mayo is easier to pronounce than Quince or Dieciseis de Septiembre. But what I really want to focus on is the concept that Cinco de Mayo has become a cultural bridge between Mexicans and Americans -- a day that brings two very different cultures together in celebration. In fact, I found many different cultures during my research that celebrate the holiday in a big way.  For example, for the last five years there has been a large Cinco de Mayo celebration in Tokyo, showcasing Mexico and other Latin American cultures.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) emphasizes the importance of intangible cultural heritage as a factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization and as a tool that encourages mutual respect for other ways of life through intercultural dialogue. In these difficult times for the Mexican and Latino communities in the United States, and among national discourse on walls that aim to separate us, we need a positive cultural bridge like Cinco de Mayo to remind us of the deep appreciation we have for each other.

Hopefully the current climate of fear doesn’t eclipse celebrations and hinder the preservation of Mexican culture and heritage in the United States. Unfortunately, the media have already reported that the President might not attend the scaled-down Cinco de Mayo celebration, which for the first time in a long time will not be held at the White House.

Looking back at the week when I met my husband, he was excited about Mexico, which illustrates the idea of Cinco de Mayo bridging our cultures. Today as a Mexican immigrant living in the United States I care about celebrating Cinco de Mayo because it not only reminds me of how incredible my culture is, it also helps me keep it alive and share it with my new hosts.