Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Appreciation or appropriation? My daughter’s first birthday is May 5. We plan to hold a Cinco de Mayo–themed party with food from a local Mexican restaurant, homemade margaritas for the parents, and a few on-theme decorations. No fake mustaches or cheesy fake sombreros. But my husband thinks I’m going a step too far with my next idea.
I want to dress my baby in a traditional Mexican dress. My husband thinks it’s inappropriate to go beyond the food and drinks, and I feel it’s fun and adorable. What do you think?
P.S. I’m aware Cinco de Mayo is really only celebrated in the U.S. due to companies pushing it and is a hotbed for cultural appropriation. I just love Mexican food, margaritas, and the colorful styles. We have zero Hispanic heritage.
A: As I’m sure you know, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla, so I presume that a core part of your daughter’s first birthday will involve a tribute to Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza (perhaps a cake?) and an overview of how the issues at play in the Reform War led to Mexico’s bankruptcy, prompting an invasion by France (perhaps labeling one side of the room “church” and the other side “state”). I’m sure you’ve thought of all of this already. Still, even with all of this thought you’ve put into it, it’s probably wise for you to sit your 1-year-old down and explain to her that she’s going to have to choose another theme for her party. You should explain to her that, while she was born on the fifth of May, she doesn’t have any relation to Mexico and so there isn’t actually any appreciation happening here at all. Tell her that you had intended to put her in traditional Mexican dress but you don’t know whose tradition you’re talking about and so the party is unworkable in every conceivable way.
Would your 1-year-old child be satisfied with a party where you ordered from a local Mexican restaurant because the food is good but the decorations were simply a-child-has-turned-1-themed? See if she’ll go for that. Because the way you’re framing it now, it seems clear that you know that this party isn’t something that meaningfully engages with a culture or heritage but rather just cherry-picks parts that seem fun and adorable as party decor. I’m hard-pressed to understand how the decor you might be planning is more considered or respectful than “fake sombreros,” since you haven’t talked about culture so much as “colorful styles.” Whereas many people choose to have Paw Patrol–themed (or dinosaur-themed or unicorn-themed) parties for their kids, you’re going with Mexico. I think that’s where you went wrong. Please explain to your child that “Mexican” is not the same as Paw Patrol or a unicorn. A culture is not a costume. Hopefully it’s not too late to get a refund on the Zaragoza cake.
We have three kids and a strict rule on birthdays. The kids get needed items (clothes, bikes, books, etc.) and $200 for the party or a big gift. We want to teach our kids the value of money and how to budget. So the kids can get a sleepover or blow-out water park trip. My eldest saved up to get a brand-new gaming system and TV, one that he doesn’t want to share with his little brothers. My husband just wants peace, and I am hesitant to push either way. I am the oldest of five and have firm memories of my private property being wrecked by the younger siblings. (Don’t ask about my first car.) I don’t want to just blindly react either. My younger boys blew their birthdays on expensive outings while my eldest really saved up for this. (We refuse to buy video games for presents.) Can you help?