All immigrants to America demand a good deal of us, some more than others. Mexican immigrants (and after them the Muslim ones) demand the most.
St. Patrick’s Day parades date from the late, prerevolutionary 18th century and have been an American institution ever since as a celebration of Irish history, culture, and cuisine. Cinco de Mayo, which memorializes the defeat of French troops by Mexican ones at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, though long celebrated in the American Southwest, has only recently been recognized as an unofficial feast day in the United States as a direct result of massive (mostly illegal) immigration from Mexico to this country since the 1970’s and the eagerness of liberals to “include” the immigrants and their heritage as worthy elements of the American identity. For many years the Mexican “community” here seemed grateful for the gesture. Lately, however, portions of it have protested against what they call the “appropriation” of their history and culture by the gringos. “You eat our food and drink our beer,” one young woman was quoted as complaining to a reporter last spring—and then round us up and ship us back to the Viejo Patria south of the Rio Grande.
Obviously, something is wrong here. The vast majority of Americans who pay any attention to Cinco de Mayo are ignorant of the holiday’s origins and couldn’t care less about them. People of whatever nationality require little encouragement to gather round and eat and drink to something—an activity that hardly amounts to the “appropriation” of anything. To the extent that the celebration is a self-aware one, it expresses more a willingness to evince generosity toward a national subculture by recognizing its traditions than a cultural theft. Real appropriation, on the other hand, is a good description of a foreign people’s aggressive invasion of another country and making available to itself that country’s goods, resources, and services. Americans don’t require the presence of Mexicans among them to eat tacos and carne asada, but Mexicans (or so they insist) do require participation in the American economy to have jobs and enjoy a comfortable living. Meanwhile, they could, if they chose, ease their tender sense of cultural exploitation by hosting at their own expense free Cinco de Mayo parties around the country for their nativist hosts, to express their appreciation for the eagerness of their elected representatives to admit them, legally or otherwise, and loudly celebrate their presence among us.