Cinco de Mayo is commonly celebrated as the Mexican holiday of Independence with margaritas and sombreros, but did you know that it’s Americans who gave it such a label? Statistics have shown that only 10% of Americans know the true meaning behind this significant date. Many would be surprised to know that it has nothing to do with the country’s defined independence at all. In fact, May 5th marks the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Contrary to popular belief, Mexico’s Independence Day is actually celebrated on September 16th. The celebration of Cinco de Mayo is meant to be centered around the strength of power and resilience of the Mexican people who overcame invaders who were trying to take their land.
The French began their invasion of Mexico in 1862 by seizing Veracruz, a port city that had already seen its share of political turbulence. From its coastal base, the French proceeded inland but lost a key battle on May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) to liberal government forces. Mexican Americans began to celebrate this holiday thereafter because they also wanted to commemorate their acts of resistance during the U.S.-Mexico war which took place between 1846 to 1848. Many gained citizenship after this time to unfortunately later discover that the United States had offered them false promises. So the holiday itself is actually very symbolic to those in Mexican culture.
Embracing a Diverse Workplace Culture
The connection between this history lesson and the workplace is the importance of cultural diversity. As common as it is for employees to plan happy hours or chat about their after work plans with slang terms like “Cinco de Drinko,” it likely goes unnoticed that these names and improper celebration of this holiday could be offensive to Mexican or Mexican American employees who understand its significance.
If your organization has a clear diversity and inclusion policy, and you’re seen enforcing said policy, you will not only have happier employees but build a stronger employer brand. Any type of discrimination, prejudice, lack of respect, or racism that’s allowed to fester becomes problematic very quickly if the correct steps aren’t taken to show that any behavior of this kind won’t be tolerated.
My hope is that if you choose to participate in Cinco de Mayo today or any cultural celebrations in the future, you educate yourself on the reason for celebration and do so in the right way, for the right reasons, while encouraging those around you to do the same.
Make sure to include your Mexican and Mexican American employees in planning these celebrations. This will ensure alignment with both your stated goal and the real reason for the celebration. That way, it won’t turn into just one more reason to commercialize a very important day.