Have you considered how a celebration like Cinco de Mayo could help you connect with this country’s largest ethnic minority?

If you haven’t, you should.

With its population reaching more than 56.6 million, the Hispanic community could be key to your organization’s outreach efforts.

Reaching your Hispanic neighbors begins with understanding them. Cinco de Mayo, one of the most celebrated Hispanic holidays in the U.S., is a great place to begin.

Of course, not all Hispanics in the U.S. celebrate this holiday. But, when more than 60 percent of the Hispanic population hails from Mexico, Cinco de Mayo can be a fruitful fiesta indeed.

Here are some basic understandings.

1. Understand why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s equivalent of the Fourth of July. Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on Sept. 16 – el Dieciséis de Septiembre.

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the victory of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Although the Mexican troops were outnumbered and outgunned, they defeated the French invaders in only four hours.

This victory resonates even today. “Cinco de Mayo is regarded by most Mexican Americans as a day of commemoration symbolizing the strength of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity,” says Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, scholar in residence with Western New Mexico University.

There are almost 12 million Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. These first-generation immigrants maintain close ties with their relatives back in their home country and with their cultural traditions.

More important, first-generation immigrants tend to seek out cultural support.

You can grow your cultural understanding of Hispanics by learning about their values, traditions and holidays – like Cinco de Mayo.

When your knowledge and cultural affinity grows, you develop the ability to provide the kind of cultural support that these immigrants are seeking.

After the cultural support, follow up with spiritual support and help your Mexican immigrant neighbors make an eternal connection.

2. Understand Cinco de Mayo’s connection with the U.S.

So, what does a Mexican holiday, originating in the 1800s in a city hundreds of miles away from the U.S. border, have anything to do with the U.S.?

The story is that a Texas tourist stumbled upon the connection only as recently as 1964.

While visiting Mexico City, the Texan came across a statute of Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza, the general who led the defeat of the French in the Battle of Puebla. The statue listed the Mexican general’s birthplace as Goliad, Texas.

In 1999, the Texas Senate declared Goliad “the State of Texas Official Celebration Site for Cinco de Mayo.”

In the same decade that the Texas connection was made with Cinco de Mayo, Chicano activists began to use the holiday as a pride-building tool among Mexican Americans.

The popularity of Cinco de Mayo expanded throughout the U.S., approaching 150 official events.

Hispanics of Mexican descent in the U.S. may be far removed from Mexican soil, but some maintain a strong connection to certain cultural expressions.

Even U.S-born Hispanics may go through a process known as retro-acculturation, “a reversal in acculturation in which they are rediscovering their family’s heritage.”

So, even if your neighbors are second- or third-generation English speaking Hispanics, cultural connections – like Cinco de Mayo – continue to be effective bridges to developing relationships with them.

3. Understand how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated.

During Cinco de Mayo, queso dip sales increase by 127 percent and more than 90 million pounds of avocados are consumed.

In one survey, 42 percent of respondents said that their Cinco de Mayo plans involved simply staying home with family.

Now, consider the high value that Hispanics place on family, naming it as the most significant contribution Latinos make to American society today.

Start with “familia” and add food, music, sometimes raucous celebrations, and you get a glimpse of how a Hispanic celebrates Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations reflect the importance of family and fiesta. These are no less important when it comes to Hispanics’ celebration of their faith.

Eighty-two percent of Hispanic converts declared their “desire for a more direct, personal experience with God as the main reason for adopting a new faith.” Additionally, 61 percent said their previous church services were “not lively or exciting.”

Community, enthusiastic expression and vibrancy of worship are important aspects of faith for Hispanics.

Don’t underestimate these basic understandings of Cinco de Mayo. They could be the foundations that help you build bridges with your Hispanic neighbors.

Increase your cultural affinity. Make cultural connections. Foster fervent faith expression.

Pass the salsa and make a spiritual connection this Cinco de Mayo.

Jesse Rincones is the executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @JesseRincones or on Facebook.

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