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Why I Kind of Hate Cinco de Mayo

Photograph by Maura Wall Hernandez

Every year, I'm frustrated by marketers using Cinco de Mayo to sell "Mexican" products (and I use quotes around Mexican because not all the things being peddled are actually even Mexican) and media outlets doing stupid stereotypical segments while wearing ponchos, sombreros and fake mustaches, and saying things like "ole" and "ay caramba." God forbid anyone wishes viewers a Happy Mexican Independence Day.

Why? Because Mexican Independence Day is September 16. Cinco de Mayo is the date that commemorates the Battle of Puebla, an 1862 Mexican military victory over the French. However, this battle victory didn't win the war and end French occupation of Mexico; France didn't withdraw its forces for another six years. In other words, it's sort of just another day on the calendar for most Mexicans, whether they live in Mexico or abroad. (The French occupation — just for reference — wasn't all bad, though. They brought culinary knowledge that left an impression on Mexican gastronomy that still lives on today.) The holiday is mostly celebrated in Puebla, where people are proud of the historical significance and there's a day off of work in observance.

But I'm frustrated with Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. because year after year, I see the same stereotypes perpetuated and someday I will have to explain to my kids why companies use the day to sell beer and tortilla chips to a country that mostly doesn't understand what they're even celebrating. My kids will likely question why advertisers and businesses are shoving Mexican cultural stereotypes down the rest of America's throats while our family pays no special attention to it; especially since we celebrate Mexican culture and holidays on a regular basis in our household because my husband is from Mexico City. Kids are smart like that — they can feel that dissonance.

When my kids are school age, I'll offer to volunteer on September 16 to talk about Mexican Independence Day and introduce their classmates to some healthy Mexican snacks they might not be familiar with. But I'll also be sure to let their teachers know that we don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I want to set the example for my kids so they know it's OK to redirect others toward celebrating their culture in an appropriate way.

For those of us wanting to raise bilingual, bicultural kids, these perpetuated stereotypes can sometimes be an obstacle to teaching our kids about embracing their culture. I can see how children could potentially be confused by Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. when we're trying to teach them one thing about how to celebrate and be proud of their heritage while society is sending them a different message, filled with adult beverages, tacos and tortilla chips.

Rather than partake in stereotypical celebrations, you could instead honor this holiday by learning about the rich local cuisine in Puebla — chicken tinga (pictured above) or mole poblano are great places to start — exploring Mexican regional cuisine, or teach your kids about some of the real history about the Battle of Puebla with bilingual Cinco de Mayo history printables. Those are all things I think I'll do when my kids are old enough to understand.

RELATED: Regional Mexican Recipes

When my kids are school age, I'll offer to volunteer on September 16 to talk about Mexican Independence Day and introduce their classmates to some healthy Mexican snacks they might not be familiar with. But I'll also be sure to let their teachers know that we don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I want to set the example for my kids so they know it's OK to redirect others toward celebrating their culture in an appropriate way.

So if you're just looking for an excuse to sip on a margarita, well, OK. That's fine. (By the way, if you're looking for excuses, National Margarita Day is celebrated February 22 and National Tequila Day on July 24.) But you could do that any other day of the year as well because you're an adult and don't need excuses to do the things you want to do, right? However, if Cinco de Mayo happens to coincide with your moms' night out and you want to take advantage of the margarita special, I'm not going to judge you. Please just remember to hold in your urge to wish me a Happy Mexican Independence Day until September.

RELATED: Our Favorite Margarita Recipes

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