Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day (that’s on September, 16). The holiday actually celebrates the unlikely Mexican victory in battle against the French in 1862.
Today, Cinco de Mayo is not a major celebration in Mexico. In fact, the only town with festivities is where the battle happened, the State of Puebla.
So why do we celebrate? Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in California ever since the battle itself and it gained popularity during the Chicano Movement in the 1940s. It has been a way for Mexican-Americans to celebrate their culture and heritage. The holiday stuck around for decades and slowly moved into the mainstream.
Put aside the giant fake mustaches and sombreros. There are better ways to celebrate Mexican culture.
Nom on some street tacos
Skip the chain restaurants. If you want to celebrate Mexican cuisine, the street taco is the place to start.
Street tacos at their simplest are made from small corn or flour tortillas topped with meat. Usually, there’s diced onion and cilantro as well but no shredded cheese, ice burg lettuce, and tomatoes and definitely no hard shells.
Street tacos in America are similar to what vendors sell in Mexico. The best street tacos are created with house-made tortillas and served with unlabeled squeeze bottles of hot sauce.
Watch a movie
Most media coverage makes Mexico seem like it’s one giant drug cartel. Break away from the stereotypes with a movie that explores Mexican culture.
Sing your heart out with “Coco,” be swept away by forbidden romance with “Like Water for Chocolate” (note, that one’s not kid friendly), and discover the rich tapestry of music beyond mariachi bands in “Hecho en Mexico.”
Bump some good tunes
Mexican music encompasses every genre out there. Megastars produce poppy hits, rock and alternative bands blend traditional folk sounds with modern twists and Mexican-Americans in the states take Mexican music in new directions.
Zoé’s alt rock sound and smooth, crooning voices compliment backyard parties and time spent alone equally well. LA based singer and producer Cuco sings with a voice that melds with airy odd beats. He sings in Spanglish and takes on a melancholic lo-fi sound.
Sonido Gallo Negro’s funky upbeat sounds seem familiar and, at the same time, unlike anything else.
Popular current Mexican artists include Banda MS, Los Plebes del Rancho and Banda Los Recoditos.
Play a pick-up game of football
Football (what Americans call soccer) is the most popular sport in Mexico. If you’ve got two left feet, consider streaming a Mexican football or baseball game or boxing match. ESPN Mexico has streaming options. Or, indulge your theatrical side with Lucha Libre.
Lucha Libre is Mexico’s version of professional wrestling. It’s known for high flying moves, high intensity matches, a cast of bright characters and the signature luchador masks. Netflix and YouTube stream Lucha Libre matches. This article breaks down where to go to (legally) stream some intense wrestling entertainment.
Enjoy the art
Cultural accomplishments from Mexico tend to go overlooked and underappreciated in America but there is a rich body of work to engage with. A quick google search for “Mexican-American cultural center,” will lead you to local centers of art and events.
If you’re able to, check out Fernado Palma Rodriguez’s work “In Ixtili in Yollotl, We the People” at MoMA. Fernado “combines his training as an artist and mechanical engineer to create robotic sculptures that utilize custom software to perform complex, narrative choreographies.”
And two current exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art include works from Mexican artists: “Ancient Bodies: Transformation, Personhood, and Power in Mesoamerica” looks at art from the past and “A Universal History of Infamy: Those of This America,” showcases works by contemporary Latino artists, writers and activist.
Learn the language
Learning a language is good for your brain and Spanish is a pretty useful language to learn– it’s the official language of 20 countries.
Cook a meal
Try your hand at an authentic Mexican recipe. Food blogger Mely Martinez has hundreds of recipes on her site, Mexico in My Kitchen that will have your mouth watering. You might just find your new favorite meal.
Curl up with a good book
Introverts unit! You don’t have to be social to celebrate. Pick up Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa for a sweet coming of age story. If you like Sylivia Plath, track down Rosario Castellanos’ novels and poetry. Mario Bellatin writes some mind-twisting experimental fiction. And Yuri Herrera is a novelist not to be missed. He is widely considered to be Mexico’s greatest contemporary novelist.
Read the newspaper column “¡Ask a Mexican!” and laugh till you cry
Gustavo Arellano’s column “¡Ask a Mexican!” began as a one-time spoof. With salty language and humor, Gustavo serves up spot on responses to questions that ranged from outright racist to misinformed to sincere.
Arellano no longer writes the column but you can read his work in the OC Weekly’s archives or in his book.
Drink a real Mexican drink
Ok, I lied. There is drinking on this list. But we’re going past the margarita (which might not even be Mexican) and taking a look at the many drinks of Mexico.
Substitute mescal for tequila in your mixed drinks for a twist. Mescal is tequila, but it’s not made in the specific region it must be made in to be called tequila. So technically, all tequila is mescal but not all mescal is tequila. Mescal is usually a little smokier than tequila but there are hundreds of varieties from all regions of Mexico.
Horchata is a milky, non-alcoholic drink made from several ground ingredients. Everywhere its own version, so no two horchata’s are the same. Here are two recipes to try, one that uses milk and another that doesn’t.
And for the perfect drink to chill out with, you can’t do better than an aguas frescas. Like horchata, every version is slightly different. Popular flavors include pineapple, cantaloupe, guava and cucumber. The flavor is usually determined by local fresh fruits. Mely Martinez of “Mexico in my Kitchen” has recipes for hibiscus flowers, tamarind and rice and cinnamon horchata (horchata is technically a type of aquas frescas.)