One of the most triggering days for people looking to quit drinking or stay sober is what I like to call the “major drinking holidays,” like Cinco de Mayo.
Every year, from boozy brunches on New Year’s Day to champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve, there are a number of holidays when drinking seems to be the thing to do. For some (especially those of Irish descent), the worst culprit is St. Patrick’s Day. But for many of us (Latinx and not), Cinco de Mayo has taken on a whole new meaning as social media photos joking about “Cinco de Drinko” seem to flood our feeds.
As a Latina who has faced margarita jokes on May 5th for most of her adult life, I can tell you that this day can be really triggering if you have a history of enjoying it in the past. But if you’re trying to avoid drinking on Cinco de Mayo, there are a few things you need to know and a few things you can do.
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The History of Cinco de Mayo
The first thing you need to know is that, unlike what most Americans believe, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That’s actually September 16th, which falls at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Instead, Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of Mexico’s underdog victory over France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
In the U.S., the celebration came a year later to Southern California as a show of solidarity with Mexico against French rule. By the 1930s, the holiday became a way to celebrate Mexican identity and Mexican-American youth took over the holiday in the 1950s and 60s as a way to build Mexican-American pride.
Somewhere along the way, starting in the 1980s, Cinco de Mayo became commercialized and the holiday we know today. With the growth of the Latinx community, companies saw celebrating this holiday as a way to gain new consumers. Similar to how liquor companies took over Pride celebrations in June. Today, Cinco de Mayo is promoted as a day to celebrate Mexican food and culture, but many folks also use it as an excuse to throw a party and drink many, many margaritas.
But considering that the margarita was invented in the U.S., not in Mexico, it doesn’t even necessarily make sense to celebrate Mexican culture by drinking them. Instead, if you want to avoid drinking on Cinco de Mayo, here’s what you should do instead.
1. Shop Mexican and Mexican-American brands.
If you want to celebrate and support Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo, why not spend all that money you’re saving by not buying booze on some cool products from Mexican-owned companies? Some favorite fashion brands include Josefina by Vero Solís, Roberto Sánchez (who has been worn by celebs like Bad Bunny, who is Puerto Rican), and Pink Magnolia. Some other favorites are Brujita Skincare, Melt Cosmetics, Casa Gutiérrez Nájera, Breuer Studio, and Direct from Mexico for home furnishings. You can also shop from Mexican and Mexican-American food brands such as Siete Family Foods, Herdez, and Cholula Hot Sauce, or just shop for Mexican food favorites on MexGrocer.com.
2. Watch films by Mexican directors.
If you’re into pop culture or film trivia, you might already know that there is a trio of Mexican directors who have been winning a lot of awards lately. Their names are Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuarón. If you are looking for something to do on Cinco de Mayo that doesn’t involve alcohol, why not watch a movie or two or three by one of these modern-day greats? Some favorite Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films include Roma and Gravity by Cuarón, The Shape of Water by del Toro, and The Revenant and Birdman by Iñárritu. You can also watch some of their older films, Y Tu Mamá También by Cuarón, Amores Perros by Iñárritu, and Cronos by del Toro.
3. Cook up or shop for Mexican food.
Although most people think of guacamole when they think about celebrating Cinco de Mayo, there’s a lot more to Mexican food than chips and dip, or tacos for that matter. In fact, since Cinco de Mayo is technically a celebration originating in the Puebla region of Mexico, I’d recommend expanding your mind and trying some regionally specific food. My favorite foods from Puebla include mole poblano (the chocolate one you have probably had before), chalupas (a lightly fried corn tortilla topped with some kind of meat), cemita (a type of Mexican sandwich), and chiles en nogada (a green chile stuffed and covered with a white, creamy walnut sauce and pomegranates—the green, red, and white color combination is meant to duplicate the Mexican flag).
4. Learn about Mexican culture.
Since many Americans don’t know about the real Mexican Independence Day or much about Cinco de Mayo, why not take this day as an opportunity to educate yourself about what Mexican culture is actually about? You can start by reading some Mexican history books or reading up on Mexican history from the History channel. You can watch a documentary about Mexico or learn about different types of Mexican music (no, it’s not all just Mariachi). Personally, I’m a big fan of podcasts. Although I love recovery podcasts most of all, I also enjoy indulging in podcasts about culture and history such as these Mexican podcasts—with a special shout-out to the new Anything for Selena podcast.
5. Donate to Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Remember all that money you used to spend on alcohol? I sure do. Well, since you’re not going to be buying half a dozen margaritas on Cinco de Mayo, why not put all of that money you might have spent towards helping Mexican-Americans and Latinx people in general? That’s where the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund comes in. They do amazing things for Latinxs in the U.S., such as helping to educate about voting rights, supporting DACA and Dreamers, information about scholarships, and all kinds of other support and fighting for Latinx civil rights since 1968. They don’t just help Mexican-Americans, but it’s a great organization to support on Cinco de Mayo… or any day of the year.
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When it comes to not drinking on the big alcohol-fueled holidays like Cinco de Mayo, one of the best things you can do to avoid triggers is to just do something else. It’s sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes, perhaps when the pandemic is over, a friend’s invitation to your favorite Mexican restaurant with 2-for-1 drink specials would be enough to make you want to reach for that tequila shot. But remember that it’s OKAY TO SAY “NO”. Instead, I plan to spend this Cinco de Mayo making a recipe from my favorite Mexican food writer’s book, Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas by Lesley Téllez, and plotting out my dream trip to Puebla, Mexico. Maybe you want to join me?