Cepeda: How to laugh off the foolishness of Cinco de Mayo

Esther Cepeda
Esther Cepeda

CHICAGO — Last year at this time, Donald Trump loomed over a taco bowl at Trump Tower and tweeted out the message: "Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!"

Bleccchhhhh. The ultimate combination of Hispandering and hypocrisy — kind of like the fake holiday of "Cinco de Mayo" itself.

And here we are again, during a year of openly anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiment, rolling into the day of south-of-the-border alcoholic beverages, oversized straw hats and imitation drooping mustaches (Party City has a "Fiesta Facial Hair Set" for $8.99 — "Prepare to get your mariachi on ... ").

For the umpteenth time: Mexican Independence Day is in September, not in May. I don't know who decided that the anniversary of a battle between the French and Mexican armies in Puebla required ingesting mass amounts of booze and I don't care — I'd just love for it to stop.

Every May there is an increase in the ridiculousness of the costumes and advertising tie-ins for non-Hispanics to revel in — and, perversely, it seems to coincide with how poorly actual Mexicans are treated in this country.

But since "Cinco" isn't going away, the only weapon Mexicans really have at their disposal is to make fun of the whole thing.

Like last year, when comedienne Cristela Alonzo told the world, via Twitter: "Did everyone get my invite to my Cinco de Mayo 'Let's Build a Wall' fiesta? It's BYOB (bring your own bricks)."

Alonzo is best known for creating, producing, writing and starring in her gone-but-not-forgotten 2015 ABC television sitcom, "Cristela," which was both funny and down to earth (probably why it bombed on prime-time TV). But she's also a nationally touring stand-up comic and is now starring in her own Netflix original, "Lower Classy," filmed live in her hometown.

Aside from volunteering to help immigrants polish up their English skills or donating money to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, I can't think of a better activity than spending an hour with Alonzo to replace any mindless "Cinco" celebrations you might have considered joining.

"I was recently in North Carolina, and I went into a bar and I asked the bartender for an old fashioned," Alonzo says. "So he took away my voting rights."

"I'm kidding, I'm Latina, I don't vote!" she cries, then adds. "I'm kidding! I love to vote, I do it five, six times in an election."

This is Alonzo's charm — she has no problem getting laughs from cheap stereotypes of Hispanics. And it's funny.

At turns streetwise and geeky, Alonzo riffs on the vicissitudes of life as a Mexican-American who grew up poor and navigates life as an outsider to what is considered mainstream culture.

She encounters snooty salespeople at department stores who think she can't afford anything, wonders why nonMexicans don't ever name their sons Jesus ("You never meet a white guy named Jesus, like, 'Hi I'm Jesus Rosenberg, I work at Goldman Sachs.'"), and complains about how autocorrect messes up your relationships when you text in two languages.

Alonzo hates how expensive healthy food is. "When you're poor, it's not about eating right, it's about eating. People don't get that. ... I went to Whole Foods, that store should have layaway! A sale at Whole Foods is six bucks for a pint of strawberries because they were organic," she riffs. "Six bucks! For that much money, you better show me a picture of white people picking that fruit ... forget Jose and Maria, I want Becky and Brian, out in the field.

"And how do they justify it? Now they tell you the life story of every animal. Oh, this milk is hormone free, this beef is grass fed, this chicken is cage free. What?! These animals had a better childhood than I did! I grew up in the hood, I had bars on my window. ... There I am in my bedroom: 'How is it outside, chicken?'"

Alonzo says that part of the reason it was so important to her to bring her family life to the small screen was because, "when we talk about immigrants, we never give them a heart or a soul."

Though Alonzo was born in the U.S. — a fact that she reiterates frequently to the many Twitter trolls who insist she "go back to Mexico" — she's got enough of both to make you forget any May 5 foolishness.

Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. She was previously a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.