On the 5th of May, Americans across the country raise their salt-rimmed margarita glasses in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Fun as the celebrations may be — sometimes, a little bit too much fun — there aren’t many people who can eloquently explain why and what they’re celebrating. Here at Casa de Suna, we support festivities of all kinds, but we also recognize the importance of honoring the culture we’re borrowing from. Read on for our deep dive into Cinco de Mayo’s origins, as well as our do’s and don’ts for how to celebrate the holiday respectfully.
First and foremost, it’s important to know what Cinco de Mayo is not. For a long time, many have mistakenly associated it with día de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The Day of the Dead is an entirely different holiday, which occurs in early November. Cinco de Mayo is also not Mexican Independence Day, which occurs on September 16th.
What Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates is the Mexican army’s victory against France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The impetus for the war was financial: when President Benito Juárez was elected in 1862, the country was in fiscal turmoil. Juárez had no choice but to default on a number of debt payments, triggering outrage from Britain, Spain, and France. All three countries sent troops in response, but France, led at the time by Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III, attempted to take things further and claim the Mexican territory of Puebla Los Angeles as their own. After Juárez immediately retreated, France assumed an easy victory was ahead. At the time though, Juárez was rounding up a crew of 2,000 troops, many of them indigenous, to protect Puebla.
On May 5th, 1862, the French General Charles Latrille de Laurencez led a crew of 6,000 French soldiers, all armed with state-of-the-art weapons, to launch the assault. Despite outnumbering them by a factor of three, the French were no match for the Mexican army. By the end of the day, they had retreated. While it took five more years for France to officially leave the country, the victory in Puebla was symbolic: representative of the determination, resilience, and resourcefulness of the Mexican people.
Given the historical background on the holiday’s genesis, it only makes sense to elevate the way we celebrate. Instead of using it as an excuse to drink, look at it as an opportunity to celebrate the richness of Mexican culture: from the food and the textiles to, yes, the tequila. In recent years, a movement aptly named #ReclaimCinco has launched across social media. It encourages the following four actions for a respectful celebration: 1) Educate yourself; 2) Support authentic Mexican businesses; 3) Celebrate responsibly; and 4) Donate to organizations working for immigrant rights.
Read on for our favorite ways to tackle a truly considered — and considerate — Cinco de Mayo celebration.
First, pull together an outfit from an ethical, Mexican-owned brand.
Whether you’re hanging at home or hosting a party, the easiest place to start with a show of support is your style: throw on a jumpsuit from ética Denim, a family-owned brand beloved by Mexican It-Girls and headquartered in Puebla —the city that started it all — itself.
Next, stock your pantry with small-batch snacks.
If you are hosting a party, stock up on snacks from Tia Lupita. Tia Lupita was founded by Hector Salvidar, whose aunt (Tia) Lupita would ship bottles of hot sauce from Mexico to San Francisco to stave off his homesickness when he first moved to America, and he realized his friends couldn’t get enough. The brand expanded from hot sauces to grain-free, allergy-friendly chips and tortillas. Pro tip: Tia Lupita also has a blog with a ton of educational resources on Mexican culture. Their “Drunk History” lesson on Cinco de Mayo is one of the funnier and more informative takes we’ve seen.
Finally, support local artisans with your special touches.
Whether you’re dining alfresco or squeezing around a small apartment table, there’s no better way to brighten your setup than with a garland made by local artisans in Chiapas.
If you’re cooking at home, take this as an opportunity to try an ambitious dish from one of Mexico City’s finest restaurants, using Bon Appetit’s recipe for the famous red and green snapper from Contramar. If you’re not into fish, browse this beautiful cookbook for more traditional options. Bonus points if you bring this as a thematic hostess gift wherever you’re celebrating.
Not entertaining at home? Yelp offers a “Latinx-owned” label on their site, making it easy to opt for a spot that’s authentic and not appropriated while you’re browsing for a reservation.
Try any of our CDS approved tips for considered Cinco de Mayo? Tag us on social media using #casadesuna.