It’s More Than Just the Sombreros: The Cultural Appropriation Surrounding Cinco de Mayo

Written by: Erich

Edited by: Sara

Visuals by: Macy

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican-American holiday that takes place annually on the 5th of May. Every year, millions of Americans put on sombreros, wear fake mustaches, and go out for drinks on this day. As this ‘tradition’ of wearing stereotypically Mexican features carries on, the real meaning behind Cinco de Mayo continues to be forgotten.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in memory of Mexico’s victory over Napoleon III’s French troops during the battle of Puebla, which led to a temporary halt in France’s attempts to conquer Mexican lands. This widely renowned holiday has always been about commemorating this achievement. However, in recent years most individuals celebrating this holiday no longer recognize the rich culture behind it. It has merely become an excuse for Americans to party and drink whilst wearing items such as sombreros, ponchos, and fake mustaches which appropriate and misrepresent Mexican culture. 

In order to prevent cultural appropriation from being normalized, it is necessary to understand its exact meaning and how it differs from cultural appreciation. Cultural appropriation, otherwise known as cultural misappropriation, is a term coined when individuals coming from more dominant cultures make use of cultural elements of minorities without considering or respecting the history and significance they hold. Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, is when individuals of a different background take the time to understand the historical significance behind elements of another culture and look into the oppression or marginalization that was experienced by the people in relation to their culture.

The normalization of practices that appropriate minority cultures do not appear out of nowhere. More often than not, existing sources motivate widespread acts of cultural appropriation. The appropriation surrounding Cinco de Mayo stems from liquor manufacturers using celebrations to advertise their beverages with Latinos as their targeted audiences. However, as the years passed, this target audience started expanding towards the white population as well, which led to the holiday gaining fame amongst Americans. Their manner of celebration is quite harmful, as it is a reminder to Mexican-Americans of their ancestors’ experiences under the colonization of the French government. After all, despite Mexico’s initial victory in the battle of Puebla, they eventually lost the Franco-Mexican War a few years later.

So, how can we celebrate Cinco de Mayo respectfully? Claudia Sandoval, a renowned Latina MasterChef champion, said that when choosing to partake in this holiday, it is of great importance that we understand “the meaning behind [certain] customs and reasons for celebration”, otherwise it would turn into appropriation rather than appreciation. Her words emphasize the importance of respect and embody the mindset we should all adopt when coming into contact with other cultures.

Works Cited

Garcia, Maria. “Please Don’t Wear A Sombrero: What Cinco De Mayo Really Means, From A Mexican.” The ARTery, WBUR, 2 May 2019,

Holmes, Kelsey. “Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation: Why It Matters.” Greenheart International, 2016

Johnson, Angela. “9 Reasons Celebrating Cinco De Mayo in the US Is the Worst.” Insider, Insider, 5 May 2021,

Raypole, Crystal. “The Difference Between Cultural Appreciation and Appropriation Matters.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 16 Sept. 2020,

VanSchmus, Emily. “How to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Respectfully This Year.” Better Homes & Gardens, 4 Mar. 2021,