Communications symbolism: Cinco de Mayo time

Cinco de Mayo - on an American stamp.

Cinco de Mayo – on an American stamp. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Turn on the television, surf the Web, or zoom over to a local restaurant and you’ll likely find the news – it’s Cinco de Mayo. And, if you’re like many Americans, you immediately think of sombreros, cacti, tacos, and more symbols of Mexican culture. These seem like central symbols of the holiday that most believe is the Mexican counterpart of the Fourth of July. The truth, though, is that Mexican independence didn’t actually come on Cinco de Mayo at all. In fact, the holiday may be more widely celebrated in the United States than it is in Mexico. It’s an interesting illustration of how symbols can shift meaning across cultural and national boundaries – an idea discussed in Converged Communications classes like GEB3373 (International Business) and DIG3286 (Assembling Digital Media).

As PBS explains, Cinco de Mayo commemorates not Mexican independence but a major battle in 1862 against an invading French army. The battle didn’t declare independence (which was won earlier in the century from Spain rather than France) or even end the war, but it was an important milestone that rallied Mexico to drive out the invaders. In the United States, though, the holiday has taken on an existence of its own, both among Americans of Mexican descent and the population as a whole. As Brian Greene writes for U.S. News and World Report, Cinco de Mayo enjoys greater popularity in the United States than in Mexico, where it is a minor holiday in much of the country. So if you’re spending the day munching on a Mexican meal like nachos (themselves not traditionally part of authentic Mexican cuisine), maybe while looking forward to #concomms graduation in just a couple of days, it’s worth thinking about how Cinco de Mayo as it’s observed in the United States represents traditions a bit different from its Mexican origin.

Happy Cinco de Mayo for all converged communicators as graduation keeps getting closer!

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