Considering the culture behind Cinco de Mayo

Somewhere along the way, Cinco de Mayo became something it isn’t.

The day, May 5, is a holiday celebrated in parts of Mexico, and meant to mark the country’s military triumph over Napoleon III’s French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

But for many without Mexican American heritage (and even for some Mexican Americans), Cinco de Mayo has shifted into a shorthand for free-flowing parties, cheap margaritas and tacos — an appropriation, in other words, of a day that can hold meaning for some Latinos.

Rather than list where you might be able to catch a música norteña performance or find some killer drink specials, KXT took the opportunity to have conversations with Mexican American artists and creatives in North Texas, digging into the notion of insensitivities around Cinco de Mayo, but also the importance of incorporating Mexican American identity into music and art, and navigating racial, political and cultural tensions on- and off-stage.

What follows are lightly edited, condensed responses from larger conversations.

Eva Arreguin, wearing a black and white dress, faces the camera

Eva Arreguin, co-founder of De Colores Collective and host of De Colores Radio podcast
Photo: Jeremy Pesina

Eva Arreguin, co-founder of De Colores Collective and host of the De Colores Radio podcast
“A lot of Mexican Americans I know grew up not celebrating [Cinco de Mayo] much at all. I know for myself, I went to a parade that would happen each year. So that was the extent of it. … As I got older, it obviously became more of a party day for a lot of folks. And I think people love a reason to party. So, unfortunately, with how I guess America is set up, instead of recognizing the roots of a holiday or anything like that, they’ll just take it as a moment to really party and drink and then it becomes exploitative.

“There have been a couple times where I do see actual Mexican Americans do events for it, and that is a little more exciting to be around — people who are of your culture, putting on for your culture and celebrating your culture alongside you. I often use it more as a day, within my work, to educate and also remind folks that it’s important to know the history of Mexican Americans, especially in a place like Texas, and also recognize that even Mexico has its own faults and flaws that we often ignore.

“It’s been really beautiful, honestly, to witness and see so many people not just try to fit in and blend with the mold, but say hey, actually, this identity thing is my superpower, not my downfall. … The world realizing [artists’] worth outside of just what the identity can do for them is really exciting, especially here in Dallas-Fort Worth, because there are so many brilliant Mexican American creatives doing really powerful work.”

Standing in front of tall, green plants, Jason Bobadilla, dressed in all white, places his hand over his face

Jason Bobadilla (who performs as Ariel & the Culture)
Photo: Clarissa Medrano

Jason Bobadilla, singer/songwriter who performs as Ariel + the Culture
“I’m not all with the whole consensus of canceling and the appropriation of culture, but I do think, overall, I don’t know a single Latino or Mexican American that genuinely celebrates it. My entire family’s from Mexico. There, it’s just another [day]; it’s just the fifth of May. … Like I said, I don’t speak for all Latinos, or Mexican Americans or chilangos, but I do think that the people that do celebrate that happen to be Latino or Mexican American, the smaller percentage … don’t hold it in the same regard, as I guess Americans, especially a lot of, I guess, white people, who basically try to angle it for promotional purposes. I do love $2 margaritas; I appreciate it. If they really cared about the date that much, they’d let Latinos drink for free — if they actually gave a damn, which they generally don’t.

“I think me already existing and making that kind of music, that there’s more white people or more — not just white people — Black people or people of color becoming more and more interested in Latino culture. … I think being part of that movement, and doing my part in Dallas and in Texas, hope-fully it’ll make people realize and become a little more sensitive. … I’m not offended by the Cinco de Mayo spiel. I think, personally, it’s just a cash grab, done by people who, any other day, wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a sombrero.”

Kalid Abdul
Photo: Ashley Maldonado

Kalid Abdul, rapper and producer, and member of hip-hop collective Chroma
“My perspective, there is a lot of misconceptions, actually — I’ve seen this often — that a lot of people think that it’s Mexican Independence Day. And a lot of people take that as an excuse to party. I don’t really mind the partying — I think everyone should be allowed to celebrate … I don’t mind other people celebrating as long as it’s not insensitive, and as long as they respect my culture and they’re not just wearing sombreros and, like, wearing fake mustaches — you know, stuff like that. I think teaching people that are gonna go celebrate what it is should be the way forward … just teaching them about Mexican culture and what the day signifies and getting rid of the misconceptions.

“I think showing that I’m an immigrant, and showing that I’m Mexican, and showing the difficulties that come with being an immigrant — a lot of the time, it’s showing us as a triumph, which it is [but] going through a journey like this is not easy. … I feel like a lot of the time, the other side of the coin — like procedures with the government or not having seen your family in a while — the other side of the coin is not shown often. … I think me, voicing what I go through, someone else might understand more easily through music. I just talk about what’s real to me.”

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor for KXT. Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.