Let’s Stop the ‘Hispandering’ by Politicians This Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla when the Mexican army defeated the better-equipped French army in 1862. While it isn’t a widely celebrated holiday in Mexico, in the U.S. Cinco de Mayo has grown in popularity in the period after the height of the Chicano movement in the 60s and 70s. For the past thirty years, marketers have latched onto the holiday to promote alcohol, Mexican food products, and pretty much anything that can be marketed to the masses. Cinco de Mayo has also given politicians in the U.S. an opportunity to pander to Mexican American voters.

Today Thursday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will be at an event at East Los Angeles College, which is currently located in Monterey Park, California but was once part of unincorporated East Los Angeles. East Los Angeles is the heart of L.A.’s Chicano community. At the White House, President Obama will host a Cinco de Mayo reception that Vice President Joe Biden will also attend. Mexican pop band Mana is scheduled to perform at the White House celebration this Thursday as well. And throughout the day, politicians across the political spectrum will make statements about Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Americans. Last year the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus used the holiday to praise “the Mexican American men and women and Hispanics of all descents, past and present” who have served in the U.S. military.

In the U.S., we are in the middle of election season, and “Hispandering,” political pandering by elected officials and candidates attempting to win over "Hispanic" voters, is going to go into overtime today. While the focus will largely be on Mexican Americans, who constitute the largest group within the broader Latino population in the U.S., other Latinos will be acknowledged. Historically, non-Mexican Latinos are irrelevant to Cinco de Mayo.
Latinos find attempts to “Hispander” to be disingenuous. In the current election cycle, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign has tried to liken the former Secretary of State to our abuelas. And then after announcing his run for the White House insulting Mexicans, Republican candidate Donald Trump has since claimed “the Hispanics love me.” Some politicians are more artful in their outreach strategies, but “Hispandering” often involves a backdrop of mariachis, Mexican pop music, and ballet folklorico. And what day provides such a convenient backdrop of celebratory mariachi music and colorful folklorico dancers than say Cinco de Mayo or el 16 de Septiembre (Mexican Independence Day)?
Politicians who want to be taken seriously by Mexican American voters should not put too much effort into commemorating Cinco de Mayo, especially if they aren’t closely connected to the community in more meaningful ways. Simply showing up and proclaiming a love for tacos, tequila, and Mexican music isn’t a good way to convey a political message, and if anything these attempts at outreach could cheapen whatever message the politician is trying to deliver because of the gross mass marketing that corporations have engaged in to sell their goods on Cinco de Mayo.
Despite years of White House Cinco de Mayo celebrations, President Obama has still managed to set record breaking deportations and has sent billions to fund Mexico’s bloody and corrupt drug war. But he can deliver a toast in Spanglish while saying a few words about the Battle of Puebla, throw back a margarita on Cinco de Mayo in front of Latino guests at the White House, and then check this event off his list of Latino engagement activities.
Mexican Americans should not make it so easy for politicians to “Hispander” on Cinco de Mayo. We can have our celebrations with music, dance, and historical displays, but inviting politicians who insult us with their words and/or their harmful policies makes it appear that we don’t mind being “Hispandered” to. And accepting invitations to events from politicians who celebrate Cinco de Mayo while doing harm to the community gives the impression that we approve of those politicians’ damaging policies. We should celebrate Cinco de Mayo on our own terms or take a cue from Mexicans in Mexico and not give it much attention at all.

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