by Carlos E. Castañeda

(CBS SF) — As Cinco de Mayo celebrations become institutionalized into a beer- and tequila-drinking holiday on the level of St. Patrick’s Day, there are plenty of reminders to people to avoid racially-insensitive costumes and imagery while indulging in Mexican fare.

The days of widespread belief that May 5th  was Mexican independence day – rather than a commemoration of a Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla – are largely gone. However, the day is still mishandled by people in the U.S. who “celebrate” the day by perpetuating crude stereotypes of Mexicans.

It doesn’t help that the ‘holiday’ – which is not celebrated in Mexico outside of Puebla for the most part – is often referred to ‘Gringo de Mayo,’ ‘Drinko de Mayo’ or ‘Cinco de Drinko.’

Cinco de Mayo events often start with the best intentions, but instead of learning about Mexican culture and history, people celebrating the day can come off as insensitive.

Here’s a few things to avoid on this day (or any other day, for that matter):

  • Stay away from wearing fake mustaches, especially when accompanied by a sombrero, a serape or poncho, and most certainly while taking a siesta under a cactus.  It is pretty much the worst Mexican stereotype of all.
  • If you still can’t resist the sombrero-mustache treatment, better not put it on social media, as plenty of fraternity and sorority members have discovered.
  • Avoid trying to speak Spanish by adding an ‘o’ to random words, such as ‘drinko’ or ‘beer-o’ as that would be muy malo.
  • Along the same lines, don’t be yelling out AYAYAYAYAYAYEEE!! or ‘ARRIBA, ARRIBA!!’ at the top of your lungs. Leave the gritos to Mexicanos that know how to sound legit and would never yell either one of those.
  • Adding heavy lip liner, tweaking your eyebrows, wearing a red bandanna and flashing gang signs does not make you a ‘chola,’ just a chump.
  • No problem in wearing a sombrero for kicks, especially a mariachi-style sombrero, but did you know there’s a correct way to wear the mariachi sombrero?  One side is more curved-up than the other – the curved-up side goes in the back, comprende? However, no one will get bent out of shape if you wear it incorrectly.

In general, avoid doing things that you wouldn’t do in front of the parents of your significant other if they were Mexican. Just think about it first before you don a ‘costume’ that makes a mockery of someone’s culture.


Carlos E. Castañeda is Senior Editor, News & Social Media for CBS San Francisco and a San Francisco native. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.