Cinco de Mayo is upon us, and each year it seems that people think it gives them carte blanche to don a sombrero, engage in cultural appropriation, and generally act a fool.
Newsflash: it does not.
To avoid being a jerk this Cinco de Mayo, here are a few tips:
– Avoid the sombero.
– Knock it off with jokes that prey on “stereotypes.”
– Learn about the actual significance of the holidays. (PSA: It isn’t a kind of Mexican Independence Day. In fact, as explained in this article, “Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when a rag-tag army of mostly indigenous Mexicans defeated French forces who attempted to conquer the independent country. Severely outnumbered and armed with outdated guns, Mexican soldiers defended the city of Puebla, forcing the French to retreat.”
– Teach your kids about the culture in an accurate and respectful way.
Many of us parents worry about making sure our children are empathetic to other cultures, but we don’t always know how to go about it. It’s hard, because even though there are a million ways to do it, trying to find ways that are palatable to kids, especially to young kids, is extremely hard. Thankfully, there’s a show from PBS Kids called Let’s Go Luna! that will give us a hand.
On the show, the moon is named Luna (and voiced by actress Judy Greer) and she’s friends with three kids — a wombat named Leo who is from Australia, a butterfly from Mexico named Carmen, and a frog from America named Andy. The kids’ parents are in a traveling circus, which has the crew traveling all around the world.
Teaching kids about other cultures is important for a bunch of reasons. The biggest reason is that kids need to understand the world outside of their own bubble. Exposing them to other cultures, even if it’s only through a television show, gives them a reference point to go from. The same way you use a show like Doc McStuffins to relate to the doctor, you can use a show like Let’s Go Luna! as a way to relate to other cities and cultures.
American culture has watered down Mexican culture for centuries. Many kids don’t know much about Mexico or Mexican culture outside of getting a cheese quesadilla at Chipotle. On Let’s Go Luna!, the characters find themselves in Mexico City, the capital city of Mexico. In a series of several stories, the characters explore the city, and in turn learn about very specific facets of Mexican culture. Because the stories are so specific, it gives kids a concrete example of just a taste of what real Mexican culture is like.
For example, in one mini episode, the circus band eats salsa that is too spicy and they get hiccups, so they can’t perform. This gives Carmen, with the help of Luna, the opportunity to explain mariachi bands and music. Music is always a good way for kids to broaden their understanding of a culture. Once they hear the mariachi band on the show, parents can follow that up with showing them videos of mariachi or playing the music at home. It’s a simple way to learn.
Does your kid like chocolate? Yes, most kids probably do. But they likely don’t know that Mexico is a huge purveyor of cocoa beans, which are used to make chocolate. In the episode, they run into Carmen’s friend Pico, an armadillo, whose mom is a cocoa bean farmer. As they go on a quest to return a missing bean to Pico’s mom, the kids all learn about the many uses for cocoa beans outside of making the chocolate they love to eat. The kids try molé sauce on their chicken, and drink lots of Mexican hot chocolate, which is a spicier version of regular hot chocolate. They also learn the history of chocolate.
We adults love watching shows to learn how things are made, so why wouldn’t our kids? And we’re handing this history to them on a platter that they can actually learn from. But in this case, everything is very easy for kids to understand. Characters either give the definition of something, or are giving clues to them to make the definition easy to figure out.
And if that’s not enough, your kids will be learning some Spanish words. As they travel through Mexico City, people will refer to things in their Spanish version. Instead of calling someone simply their “friend,” they say “amigo.” They learn that the word for hello in Spanish is “hola.” Or when Andy wants to paint large scale paintings, not only does Luna explain that he wants to paint “grande,” but Andy gets to learn about murals, and how they’re a huge part of the Mexican landscape.
Watching the show with your kids gives you the space to open up a conversation as you watch. Kids notice there are racial and cultural differences between themselves and people they may interact with, and teaching kids about what makes us different is important. Pointing out cultural differences — in an accurate and respectful way — is important. You can play them mariachi music and have a dance party in your kitchen while you make tacos. Or you can find a recipe for Mexican hot chocolate and have it as a special treat you’ve made together. Then spread out a large sheet of paper and art supplies to allow them to make a mural themselves.
Living in a time where kids are hearing so many negative stereotypes about the people who come from places like Mexico and parts of Central America, they need to be exposed to the rich cultural of these places.
Cinco De Mayo isn’t a day to wear straw sombreros you got from Party City and eat tacos. Mexican history is older than American history, but all we learn is the American version of history. There is a whole world outside of the borders of the United States. Our children are missing out on a learning about other cultures, but thanks to shows like Let’s Go Luna!, we can bridge the gap even the tiniest bit.