May 5, 2012

5to de Mayo

A few weeks ago, an foreign language instructor at Johnson County Community College reminded me that it's time to dig out my Cinco de Mayo poems since the holiday was approaching. She surprised me by saying that she uses them in her classes.

So here's my love/hate relationship with Cinco de Mayo ...

Sink-O duh My-O 

I hate that the birthdays of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta
are followed by the embarrassment that is
Sink-O duh My-O.

I hate that many young Latinos will mistakenly toast Mexican Independence
four months early
and on the wrong day.

I hate that shirtless frat boys will host Taco and Tequila parties
where they’ll wear giant sombreros and fake mustaches
and that the women will wear Hawaiian leis and bikinis.

I hate that from the weekend before to the weekend after I will avoid Mexican restaurants
as they reduce our cuisine to cheesy combination platters
and jalapeño eating contests.

I hate that when I walk through the grocery store,
someone will ask me what’s the best brand of tortillas
or which salsa is more authentic.

I hate that someone outside my culture will speak Spanish to me and,
when I don’t respond in Spanish,
will lecture me on how I’m losing my heritage.

I hate that teachers beat my parents for speaking Spanish in school.
And now some yahoo will get in my face to tell me I should learn it
for the one day a year it seems we’re allowed to speak it.

I hate that I must smile through this ignorance, because if I don’t,
I’m an Angry Mexican reinforcing yet another stereotype
by which they judge us.

I hate Sink-O duh My-O.

  * * * * * * * * * 

Cinco de Mayo

I love that summer begins when Maracas shake,
guitars strum and trumpets blast
on Cinco de Mayo.

I love that it initiates the emancipated days of summer
like Junteenth, Gay Pride, Fourth of July
and closes with Hispanic Heritage Month which includes the real Mexican Independence Day.

I love the sound of stomping heels
and the ruffling fabric of whirling dresses
as young folklorico dancers fulfill the tradition of siblings and elders.

I love the smell of roasted peppers,
the sizzle of beef
and how the breeze carries chili powder instead of pollen across the fiesta.

I love that booths offer everything from homemade tacos to HIV testing to la Avon
and that everyone understands the celebration comes from the gathering of community
not the authenticity of the products.

I love that Latino kitsch like the paintings of the Matador and the Señorita,
calendars featuring the Aztec warrior carrying the maiden, and wooden puppets
release childhood memories and reveal cultural meaning.

I love the rhythm that flows from Spanish spoken without shame
on the one day a year everyone wishes they were fluent.
El que sabe dos idiomas vale por dos.

I love that instead of apologizing for our accent, our skin, our hair, our shape,
we celebrate, appreciate and validate our existence
despite the revolución’s evolución into the Mexican St. Patrick’s Day.

I love Cinco de Mayo.

Originally published by Present Magazine in 2009 
and  featured on the Facebook page, Poets Against SB1070 in 2011.