Almost everybody is wrong about Cinco De Mayo. But Japan sets the standard
Almost everybody misunderstands Cinco de Mayo—it’s not the celebration of Mexican independence, but of victory at the Battle of Puebla, when overmatched Mexican forces beat back the French. Still, even though most people misunderstand Cinco de Mayo, Japan takes it to another level.
That’s because some people in Japan celebrate all of North America on Cinco de Mayo, not just Mexico. It may be a marketing opportunity, a misunderstanding, or a mix of both, but Japanese Cinco de Mayo festivals feature highlights from North and South America. The Mexico part is entirely optional. Even Canada appeared on a 2013 ad.
At Japan’s largest Cinco de Mayo festivals, you can see everything from Brazilian Capoeira to New Orleans brass bands. Mexican entertainment is part of the mix, but it isn’t crucial when you see a reggae band play or visit the Hooters booth. You can even get American classics from Brooklyn Diner.
Japan has the most noticeably unusual interpretation of Cinco de Mayo, but it’s partly to find enough performers and draw a big crowd. International confusion about the holiday shows that we’ve all got it a little wrong. There have even been Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Paris, despite that the holiday celebrates victory over the French. Next time you raise your margarita glass, at least make sure you’re drinking for the right reason.