One of Bébé Voyage’s own gives us an accurate history of Mexico, as well as kid-friendly ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!
Let’s all give ourselves a pat on the back because we’ve made a little progress: by now most of us know that Cinco de Mayo isn’t in fact Mexico’s Independence Day, but rather a day commemorating…well, some minor military battle that hardly anyone in Mexico actually celebrates. Ok yes, this is true, but the Battle of Puebla and the Mexican defeat of the French in 1862 was kind of a big deal historically, greatly impacting the future of both Mexico and the United States. In fact, historians believe that had the French been victorious at the Battle of Puebla, Napoleon III would have supported the Confederacy, and the U.S. Civil War may have had a very different outcome with this added ally against the Union.
Celebrations commemorating the battle began in California among the Mexican community almost immediately, and since 1863 Cinco de Mayo has largely been an American celebration of Mexican culture, rising in popularity throughout cities with Mexican-American populations in the 1940s during the beginning of the Chicano Movement.
Modern Day Cinco de Mayo
In the 1980s, though, marketers in the alcoholic beverage industry saw an opportunity to capitalize on these growing celebrations, and ever since, the day has been synonymous with binge drinking, taco gorging, and truly questionable costume wearing. Appropriating a day originally intended to celebrate Mexican culture as an excuse to get sloppy is already icky enough on its own, but then we add elements like rising hate crimes against the Latinx community and heated debates on immigration and there’s lots of space for things to get ugly. The thought of people ranting about brown immigrants and harassing Spanish-speakers one day and then excitedly making plans for Cinco de Mayo while wearing a costume sombrero the next is the kind of hypocrisy that makes me want this day to cease to exist altogether. But that gets us nowhere, and the day and the meaning behind it is important; I know that we can do better.
That being said, Mexican culture is fun! It’s loud, it’s lively, and it’s a celebration of life! No one wants you to spend Cinco de Mayo in a library. But while we’re celebrating, let’s also incorporate ways to learn a bit more about it and do a better job of appreciating Mexican culture and the contributions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to our communities in a respectful, curious way.
Here are some ideas. . .
Learn a few basics about Mexico and Mexicans
- Did you know that the official name of Mexico is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Mexican United States? It has 32 of them, and like the United States, has a very long, rich indigenous history predating its European colonization. Unlike the United States, however, Mexico was much quicker to mix these races. The Latinx community, including Mexicans, are sometimes referred to as la raza cosmica or “fifth race” because we are made up of a unique mix of Indigenous, European, African, and Asian peoples.
- In fact, Mexico’s first Black president, Vicente Guerrero, was elected way back in 1829 and it was he who abolished slavery in the country.
- Have you taken a close look at the Mexican flag? What you’re seeing in the middle is an eagle perched upon a Nopal cactus eating a snake. Pretty badass, but also a depiction of the legend of the Aztec founding of Mexico City, then called Tenochtitlán. In the story, the Aztecs were told they would see this scene played out on the site where they were to build their capital. They did, even though it was on top of a lake! Through ingenious engineering, the Aztecs built an incredible floating city that is modern-day Mexico City…which is subsequently sinking at an annual rate of about 20 inches per year.
Fun Things You Can Do At Home or in Your Community
- Support local Mexican-owned businesses. From restaurants to grocery stores to private vendors, you very likely have a Mexican-owned establishment somewhere close by. Forego the chain restaurants and party supply stores and take your kids to visit a local Mexican grocery store or bakery and pick a few things to try. Some of my kids’ favorites are Tajin to sprinkle on slices of mango or corn on the cob, masa for making your own tortillas (it’s so easy!), sweet rolls like conchas, and of course piñatas. If you’re unsure, ask in one of your town’s parent groups on Facebook if anyone knows of a place or a home cook that you could order from directly.
- Try a food you’ve never had before. You’ll never see me turn down a taco, but why not try something slightly different? Chilaquiles, pozole, esquites, and mole are good, accessible places to start broadening your Mexican food horizons.
- Explore beyond the margarita. A margarita and Mexico seem to go hand in hand, but did you know that the national drink of Mexico is actually the grapefruit-based Paloma? And that it is highly, highly superior to the margarita? Check it out! For the kids, try making your own delicious agua fresca, a light and refreshing drink translating to “fresh water”, typically made with fresh fruit. My personal favorite is Agua de Sandia — check out a simple recipe here.
- Introduce your kids to traditional Mexican music and dance. Mariachi and ballet folklórico are traditional mestizaje art forms, combining indigenous and Spanish elements. This mix is the cornerstone of Mexican identity, and these are both great examples of that. Check out a dance tutorial from the Ballet Folklórico de Los Angeles here and check out Mariachi Flor de Toloache – an all-female mariachi band!
- Read some books. We love the bilingual Lil Libros collection for teaching concepts like shapes and colors through Mexican culture, introducing small children to history-making Mexican Americans like Dolores Huerta, Selena Quintanilla, and astronaut Ellen Ochoa, folklore like La Llorona (gotta scare ‘em when they’re young), and even introducing cities like Oaxaca.
- Learn some Spanish words. “Rhymes with Mando” from Sesame Street is a favorite around our house for its high energy and easy-to-remember rhyming patterns – turns out there are a lot of Spanish words that rhyme with Mando! Plus, it’s written by Lin-Manuel Miranda – Puerto Rican, but we’ll give him a pass.
- Plan a trip. Talk to your kids about actually visiting Mexico! From ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins to Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul to beaches and jungles and caves to mountains and canyons to colonial architecture, Mexico has it all. But Mexican culture is so influential in so many parts of the United States, you don’t even have to leave the country to appreciate it! From museums like the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, and Mexic-Arte in Austin, to historic neighborhoods like Old Town San Diego, Olvera Street in Los Angeles, El Mercado in San Antonio, and so many more, there are plenty of ways to explore Mexico without even needing a passport.
Partaking in celebrations like Cinco de Mayo present great opportunities to introduce kids to cultures outside of their own, and there are so many easy ways to go beyond superficial stereotypes with just a little bit of extra legwork. Maybe then we’d see a day like Cinco de Mayo to be a bit about beer and tacos, sure, but more importantly, a chance to model to our kids that we approach the exploration of other cultures with respect, curiosity, openness, and knowing that there is so much more beyond the surface.
Do you have any ways to celebrate a kid-friendly Cinco de Mayo? Let us know in the comments below!
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