“Where I was born, Cinco de Mayo wasn’t celebrated. It’s not celebrated because it’s a war we actually lost,” said Manuel Mejia Gonzalez, UO student and Ethnic Studies major who was born in Mexico. “The only place that really celebrates it is the city of Puebla, where the battle was actually fought.”
On its surface, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French Empire in 1862, although it has since found new meaning in the United States as a broader celebration of Mexican-American culture. Gonzalez says that what originally began as a way for people with Latin American roots to celebrate their own heritage has morphed into an ugly display of negative stereotypes.
Gonzalez is currently the Political Director for UO MEChA, a student organization that focuses on the educational rights of Latinx students. Latinx is a gender-neutral way of referring to people with Latin American descent.
Gonzalez moved to Springfield, Oregon during middle-school. His family in America doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo the way we’ve come to know it in the US.
“We drink on the 16th of September, which is the actual Independence Day of Mexico,” Gonzalez said.
“I think it would be a little weird if a student wanted to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, considering MEChA doesn’t want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo,” Gonzalez said. “And I’m not opposed to having fun. But if you’re going to celebrate something, I would consider having a little context. I’m not asking for an essay or review of the holiday, but think about the images being promoted with this day. It doesn’t benefit the Latinx community.”
On Wednesday, about 80 students and community members learned about the history of Cinco de Mayo and how it has morphed in the US while attending an event at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
In 2015, MEChA wrote a letter to the Editor in the Emerald asking that the UO community not appropriate their culture. The letter begins on a light note saying it’s great to celebrate, but it becomes a problem when it’s taken out of context and is offensive.
Maria Gallegos, ASUO president-elect and the external director for UO’s Multicultural Center, compared the celebration of Cinco de Mayo with the Trump Administration’s efforts to deport Mexican immigrants.
“You degrade those people and deport those people, but you really enjoy Cinco de Mayo?” Gallegos said. “It’s a strange dynamic,”
Several of the largest student-housing complexes around UO, Including 13th & Olive and Duck’s Village, are hosting events to celebrate the holiday.
Last year, students at Baylor University took appropriating Mexican culture to an extreme and received backlash after dressing in overtly racist costumes. The Emerald reported on it and offered alternative ways to celebrate and support the Latinx community.