Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but Watch Out for the Stereotypes

  • May 2, 2014

Cinco de mayo
Cinco De Mayo  is a fun and festive holiday in the United States, that it is often wrought with problematic choices made by good people just wanting to have a good time and celebrate. Without intending to, people can perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Mexicans at a private party, restaurant, community festival and even in schools.

As Cinco de Mayo festivities commence, it is important to stop and consider whether classroom observances and celebrations in general are inclusive and respectful, and do not promote stereotypical portrayals of groups of people—in this case, Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

Consider that Cinco de Mayo, which means the “5th of May,” is primarily celebrated in the United States, not in Mexico, and commemorates Mexican forces defeating French occupational forces in the Battle of Pueblo in 1862. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is traditionally a celebration of Mexican culture, heritage and pride. When done thoughtfully, the holiday can be an opportunity to explore issues of freedom, culture and identity. It also can be a time when youth receive initial impressions of a culture they may not have exposure to and when stereotypical messages about Mexican people are often reinforced.

Here are a few suggestions that will help create a respectful classroom environment for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

  • Ensure that classroom content – images, books, etc. – relating to Cinco de Mayo does not promote or reinforce stereotypes about Latinos, especially Mexicans.
  • Seek out curricular content that educates students about the rich diversity of Mexicans and Mexican Americans..Expand your focus beyond the three Fs: festivals, fashion and foods to avoid trivializing the culture’s rich history and people’s experiences.
  • Avoid using images and decorations which reinforce one-dimensional portrayals of Mexicans. Cinco de Mayo is not about sombreros, ponchos and other stereotypical elements of Mexican culture.
  • Be proactive by addressing issues of stereotyping whenever they arise, creating “teachable moments” to discuss issues of stereotyping and discrimination. If a student or colleague invokes stereotypes, either out of ignorance or to get a laugh, address it when you see it.

Helping youth develop an awareness of the rich history and importance of Mexicans in the United States is a worthy endeavor. Combatting bias in youth by challenging stereotypes is a life-skill that will serve them throughout their lives. Visit our ADL Education webpage to download curriculum on a range of bias-related topics.

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