It’s Cinco de Mayo once again! Or, for those of you who don’t know any Spanish, it’s the 5th of May.
Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico. But in the U.S. the day has become a time to celebrate the Mexican heritage and culture of many Americans, particularly in areas where many Mexican-Americans live.
The day is also a time for misinformed, insensitive nitwits to justify celebrating tired stereotypes about Mexican history, culture and the Latino community in general.
Don’t be one of them.
Resist the urge to put on a sombrero. That fake mustache isn’t funny. And that wannabe Mexican accent isn’t either. But, yes, by all means do have a shot of tequila.
Here are cinco ways you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo – the right way:
1. Know the History
Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day – though a lot of American assume it is. The holiday commemorates the Battle of Puebla where on May 5, 1862, the longshot Mexican army defeated a larger and better-equipped invading French army. But while the victory was a morale boost, Mexico ultimately lost the war.
A century later, U.S. corporations commercialized the date (adopted by Mexican-American activists in the 1960s) in order to market to Latino consumers. Ah capitalism – transforming meaningful holidays like Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and so on into money-making ventures.
By the way, Sept. 16 is Mexico’s Independence Day.
2. Visit Puebla
Pack your bags and head south to where the Cinco de Mayo battle took place – Puebla. The charming capital city of the state of Puebla is just over two hours away from Mexico City
When I visited Puebla I enjoyed walking through history at the city’s center and admiring the many Spanish colonial buildings with walls adorned with painted Talavera tiles.
The process to produce the pottery known for its traditional blue and white patterns hasn’t changed since being introduced more than four centuries ago.
3. Sample the Food
Food is a great way to learn about a community’s culture. So, skip going to the local bar serving poor imitations of Mexican food and treat yourself to an authentic meal at a real Mexican restaurant in your neighborhood.
One of my favorite dishes from Puebla is mole poblano – a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce that is good on just about anything. I usually have it with chicken, rice and beans.
The most popular legend associated with mole is that 16th century nuns were inspired by an angel to come up with the thick, sweet, rich sauce by mixing different types of chiles together in order to satisfy the taste buds of a visiting archbishop. Hallelujah, sisters!
For an even more divine culinary experience, I suggest you try chiles en nogada – a walnut-based cream sauce dish that is another source of pride for the people of Puebla.
4. Jarabe Tapatío
Don’t put on the sombrero. Dance around the sombrero!
One of the most popular Mexican folk dances is the Jarabe Tapatío, better known as the Mexican hat dance. The traditional dance basically tells a story about how boy meets girl, girl disses boy and eventually boy wins girl over.
Women performers dress in colorfully embroidered blouses and billowing skirts made popular by another well-known Puebla legend, the China Poblana. The men dress in charro, the silver trim decorated suits used by mariachi bands.
5. Sip Tequila
Finally, of course it is more than appropriate to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by drinking tequila. Just change your game plan. Don’t be like most people who just shoot it down as fast as they can after a lick of salt and sucking on lime. Tequila is meant to be sipped.
I visited the Jose Cuervo distillery in the town of Tequila near the city of Guadalajara. It was amazing to see the entire process from the jimadores harvesting the blue agave plants from fields to the ovens where the piñas are slowly baked to tasting the finished product.
Try the Bandera de Mexico, a three-shot glass drink celebrating the colors of Mexico’s flag. One shot of lime juice (green), one of tequila (white) and one of Sangrita (red), a spicy tomato-based chaser.
Viva el Cinco de Mayo!! Viva Puebla!! Viva Mexico!!