Brigette Barbosa

Cinco de Mayo. For some, a day of celebration, unity and appreciation for an entire culture.

For others, it’s just another reason to have a party and drink margaritas until the smell of tequila is enough to induce vomit for weeks.

I’ll never forget when I was 15 years old and I was picked up by my friend’s family from driver’s ed class. As if spending half my Saturday learning about speed limits and how to respect authority wasn’t bad enough, my day was about to get even worse.

The day was May 4, one day prior to Cinco de Mayo and truthfully, I had forgotten about the upcoming holiday. When I got into the car my friend introduced me to her family, and her mother (being the nice woman she was) turned completely around in her seat to stare right in my face and ask, “So Brigette, what are you doing to celebrate tomorrow? Any fiestas?”

True story.

Though it was a perfectly legitimate question, for some reason it was at that point I realized her ignorance and unintentional disrespect.

Sure, she was only trying to be nice and maybe I am overreacting, but at the same time how dare she assume I was celebrating the holiday, with a fiesta nonetheless. It’s because my skin’s brown right? At that point I could have told her I was planning on making quesadillas and smacking piAñatas from a tree in my backyard, but I sat there in silence while my mortified friend apologized for her mother the rest of the ride home.

My reaction, though to some may seem unwarranted, was the result of growing up in two different societies.

At the age of 8, I moved from a city just east of Los Angeles to farm country USA: Bakersfield, Calif. I went from being part of the majority to an instant minority. I don’t believe it was until then that I began to realize that I was different from other people. I’m not trying to play the race card and I don’t believe in affirmative action in today’s society; I’m just telling it from my specific situation.

So you can understand that years later when my friend’s mother asked me a seemingly innocent question, I almost lost it. And the best part is I’m only half Mexican. My mother is Italian and my father is Mexican. I’m tan, sorry. I have always believed that my race was not something that held me back. Yet here was a woman (of Caucasian background) reminding me that the way I look is the first thing that gets noticed. What kind of a message is that?

I don’t make it a point to fly the Mexican flag or even have a margarita during Cinco de Mayo because I would rather not participate in a holiday that most people, of all races, use as an excuse to get drunk. I can do that any night of the year now that I’m 21. If you plan to go out and have a drink or two while sampling some Mexican cuisine go right ahead.

I, on the other hand, will be at home calling my grandparents (from both ethnicities) to remind them that I love them, and thank them for the struggles with race issues they put up for generations before it was my turn. Because if the only race issue I have to deal with is being asked if I’m having a fiesta, then I have something to truly celebrate.

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