15 May 2017

Feature: Word From The U.S!

When does a Cultural Celebration become a “Drinking Holiday”?

Remember last month when I talked about healthcare in the US? Well this past week Trump managed to pass his repeal of the ACA through Congress, which means that if it passes through the Senate then many of us are all fucked. I had some comments thrown at me last month in regards to healthcare not being “free” in Europe, which technically is true because it comes out of your taxes, but we pay taxes AND healthcare premiums here too, and these premiums will probably be going up again, or even become non-existent for many people. This means that people are going to be looking at thousands and thousands of dollars of healthcare debt again. That’s all I will say about that though, it’s just another hammer in another nail in our decision to leave as soon as possible. Mexico is looking increasingly doable nowadays. Which actually brings me to this month’s subject: the cultural appropriation of holidays.

I worked in the service industry for a long time, and my other half still does. There are certain days that you dread more than others, so-called “drinking holidays”, where people go out and get so shitfaced that they have no issues with passing out in droves in their own vomit in the gutter. These “holidays” tend to involve dressing up in ridiculous outfits and pretending that you come from a different country. You know where I’m heading with this, especially if you have been to the States at certain times of the year, I’m referring to days such as St Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. (There is also a really, extra ridiculous drinking “holiday” called SantaCon, and if you have ever worked in a bar in NYC you know exactly what I’m talking about).

I’m English and although I have many close Irish friends, and have worked in Irish pubs, I have never been asked by anyone apart from an American if I would be “celebrating” St Patrick’s Day. But I can tell you, so many Americans become Irish on March 17th, and start drinking first thing in the morning. Now, there is nothing wrong with actually having Irish heritage or celebrating an Irish holiday because that’s where your ancestors come from (and there is a very large and very proud Irish American population in the US, with deep roots). There is nothing wrong with exploring folklore and heritage, understanding why this day exists and embracing what it means to the Irish. But there is something really idiotic about getting rid of any of the actual heritage and meaning of a holiday, dressing up in green and wearing a leprechaun hat, and getting so drunk that you end up face down in a pool of vomit somewhere.

Cinco de Mayo is another one. When I managed a small Mexican restaurant in Manhattan it was our busiest day of the year… I would schedule one bartender to squeeze limes all day and another to make margaritas, because even if all people wanted was to get wasted, we still wouldn’t stop making traditional fresh drinks from scratch. So you know, while people would walk in wearing fake moustaches demanding tequila, we would still respect them. 

Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th, an easy day for me to remember seeing as my other half’s birthday in the day before. Cinco de Mayo falls on, well, May 5th, the day after my birthday (and yes, celebrating my birthday and working Cinco de Mayo always meant I celebrated a few days later). For some weird reason many people here in the US think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, and therefore celebrate the day. Or others just think that its tequila day. If you ask people what they are actually celebrating (unless they are Mexican or of Mexican descent), they probably have no idea. Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of an unlikely Mexican win in battle over the French in the 1860’s. Nowadays it is celebrated in Mexico but not as a national holiday (apart from in Puebla and surroundings where the battle took place). It is also a day of celebration of Mexican culture in other parts of the world, especially in the US where there is a large Mexican and Mexican-American population. So it’s a great day to learn about Mexican culture in general, to support Mexican-owned businesses, and to really appreciate the depth of history that lies in the country. And a great day to really learn about tequila and how delicious it can be. 

But seriously, why on earth would you take the piss out of an entire population by renaming the day “Cinco de Drinko”, pour the cheapest tequila down your gob, and walk around dressed as the stereotypical Mexican? How would your regular US citizen like it if I decided to walk around on July 4th or on Memorial Day dressed as Abraham Lincoln, butchering the Constitution, and pouring bourbon down my throat? Sounds pretty stupid and disrespectful, right?

I don’t have any issue whatsoever with celebrating a holiday or a different culture or religious event. I love learning about other cultures and heritages. I love celebrating people and countries and events. What I don’t like is when people appropriate a certain celebration or holiday, strip it of any meaning whatsoever, and turns it into a reason to get drunk and actually make fun of where the celebration actually comes from. I would never tell someone what to celebrate or when to celebrate it, but come on, there has to be a better way to commemorate a historical battle or a patron saint’s day than putting on a fake moustache, chugging green beer and margaritas and waking up the next day wondering where the day disappeared to. It’s kind of insulting.

The US is such a huge mix of every single culture and heritage and history that you can think of… I’ve never lived anywhere else in the world where I can eat traditional food from anywhere, whenever, where I can hear 20 languages spoken in one subway car at any given time, and where I wouldn’t have a problem finding a newspaper in any language I thought of. I always loved walking through NYC at any time of the year and coming across street parties, and cultural celebrations, and all types of food. Stop by Jackson Heights at the end of the winter and you may come across (and join in) the Hindu celebration of Holi. If you walk through Chinatown in Manhattan or Flushing during Chinese New Year you will see beautiful dragons jumping through the crowds, a huge smash of colour against the winter faces. If the weather is nice you can see Eid celebrated in Prospect Park every year. And of course there are always the wonderful parades for St Patricks Day, Greek Independence Day, Easter, Halloween… And the beautiful celebration of Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, to name just another special occasion. And I could name another hundred, easily. So why, in a country so full of culture and traditions and heritages, have people reduced certain holidays to a day of drinking until you are stupid?!

I’ve been a little ranty these past couple of months, I know. This current administration is driving me bonkers, and I feel increasingly unsafe and unwanted here. However, there are some amazing things here, and I want to make sure that I cover those too. Next month you will hear about my absolute love for NYC and how everyone should visit the city at least once in their lives. 

Written by Jade @lunajadex

If you have an idea for a feature, please do get in contact with me.


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