MD celebrates Cinco de Mayo

Allison Markman, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, Middle Division (MD) students celebrated Cinco de Mayo in their Spanish classes by exploring the culture and history behind the holiday. Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s military win over French forces at the battle of Puebla in 1862.

Alexis Gordon (8) believes learning about other cultures is crucial. “I think everyone can learn something by observing other cultures’ celebrations,” she said. In her class, Gordon enjoyed learning about the historical and cultural significance of the holiday, she said. 

Different cultures and people celebrate the holiday in their own way. “It’s always really interesting to learn about the contrasting ways that [people] celebrate,” Julia Lourenco (7) said. “Some have parades and parties, and some have dinners and church services, so it’s always really cool to learn more about what makes these different groups unique,” she said.

Every year at school, classes also celebrate Cinco de Mayo differently. Matthew Brand (7) said that his own Spanish class spent less time discussing the holiday this year than in previous years. “When I was in sixth grade, we did a lot more Cinco de Mayo related activities,” he said. “We watched a few videos over the course of a week, and then, it was part of our cultural portion of the unit.”

Julia Lourenco (7) has noticed that the holiday has been discussed less frequently as she progressed through the school since Lower Division. “I think that [Cinco de Mayo] has been getting more and more downgraded as the years go by,” she said. “I remember that when I was in the lower division, there was an extravaganza almost everybody got really excited for.”

Still, some classes did not celebrate Cinco de Mayo at all. Tea Lazri’s (6) class has not learned about the holiday, but she believes that it should be discussed more frequently, she said. “I think many people celebrate the holiday without actually understanding why, so it is important that we dedicate time to learn to better appreciate and respect the culture.”

This year was Emma Filstein’s (6) first time learning about Cinco de Mayo, she said. She enjoyed learning about the customs of the holiday and how people celebrate it both in the United States and in Mexico.

Celebrating the holiday has helped Brand connect his knowledge of the language to the real world outside of Spanish class, he said. “I’ll get a better sense of what we’ve been learning this year, which is Spanish speaking countries, their holidays, and their traditions,” he said. “Knowing what led to those [holidays] being established gives me a better sense of the bigger picture.”

Similarly, learning about cultures associated with the Spanish language helps Lourenco communicate with native Spanish speakers, she said. “I think it’s important to learn about different cultures and what makes them unique and how we celebrate them,” Lourenco said. “If you’re going to learn a language, you’re probably going to communicate with people that speak that language and you should at least have a basic idea about what their beliefs are, what their culture consists of, so you understand where they’re coming from.”

Ellie Romero (8) believes that learning about Cinco de Mayo helped to expand her knowledge of the Spanish language, she said. “We learn the words that they use to discuss the holiday, so it helps us speak better Spanish and form better sentences.”

Since some classes did not cover the holiday in depth during class time, many students are exploring the holiday on their own. Lily Sussman (7) and her family celebrated the holiday by eating Mexican food. Sussman has also spent time researching the holiday in order to deepen the topical understanding of the holiday she gained in class, she said.

Though COVID-19 made it difficult to honor the holiday, Romero believes that it is still important to have some sort of celebration to honor Mexican culture. “You can’t have a big celebration with everyone, but you can still celebrate the holidays,” she said. “It brings so many people together.”

COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult to celebrate in the same way students normally do, but Lourenco asked her teacher what the students would have done if these restrictions were not put in place. “We would have made churros, or we’d go outside and play games that are celebrating that culture,” she said. 

Though many students are celebrating, MD Spanish teacher Arni Àlvarez said that the holiday is not considered a celebration in Mexico, but rather, is regarded as a historical event similar to the Boston Tea Party. “We have other opportunities to celebrate,” he said. “For example, for me, Mexican Independence Day is a big deal,” he said. 

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is commercialized and used by companies to make more money selling Mexican food and items, Àlvarez said. “It was a date that was appropriated in the United States to sell more Mexican products, and an excuse to invite people to go to restaurants and consume Mexican food,” he said. “[Mexicans] see it as a marketing device.” 

In spite of many Americans appropriating the holiday, Àlvarez continues to see Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity for others to embrace and deepen their understanding of Mexican culture, he said. “Why not make it to our advantage, and make it a celebration in our classroom of some sort?” he said. “Even though it’s very American, I am trying to step away from focusing only on the historical aspect in the way I perceive it as a Mexican, and I’m beginning to embrace it.” 

Due to his evolving viewpoint, Àlvarez enjoyed seeing the Mexican food in the cafeteria and the flags up around school to commemorate the holiday, he said. “Now everybody is aware of [Cinco de Mayo],” he said. “This is what happens with culture, it keeps evolving, it keeps changing, and people keep embracing new things.”