Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reflection on Cinco de Mayo in Malaysia

For my husband and me Cinco de Mayo means margaritas and fajitas served under a pinata and flanked with paper mache flowers, and we decided to bring an evening of Mexican yummy goodness to Malaysia. We didn't even know what the holiday actually stands for until checking on Wikipedia when our first guest confirmed attendance and asked what Cinco de Mayo was about since she's Indian. As the confirmations and regretful declines poured in, so did the questions about our holiday which Malaysians, Australians, and the British had never enjoyed. In the parts of the U.S. I have lived, this holiday means less anything about the outnumbered Mexican army's defeat of the French and more about enjoying a contextless tribute to Bacchus in the form of tequila, jalapenos, and cheese on everything.

While party planning, the little devil on my left shoulder that spent a lot of time reading cultural studies theory in grad school whispered that I was appropriating culture and serving it up for consumption as though Mexico could be condensed to a playlist of Mariachi bands; shouldn't I use this opportunity to raise awareness about Mexican immigrants, drug cartels, or the missing women of Juarez? Or would my espousal of any activist sound bites be equally reductive, albeit with noble intent?

There is a weird multi-level of nostalgia wrapped in all this for me. My fifth of May is a bright, enjoyable picture of what Americans imagine of Mexico, and to bring the celebration to Malaysia I have to create the idea of Mexico for the guests while also creating the nostalgia. My interpretation becomes a double level of nostalgia for the way Americans celebrate nostalgia for Mexico, but I can only succeed in it if I make abject the pieces of Mexican culture that didn't fit into the party mold.

All my mental meandering isn't stopping us from hanging red, yellow, and green balloons from the ceiling and making quesadillas, Mexican cornbread, and 7-layer bean dip, but I don't think that means these aren't questions worth asking. What will you be thinking when you raise your Corona on Tuesday?

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