Holiday Entrepreneurs?

April 22, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

A writer for a local newspaper sent me an e-mail asking about the mainstreaming of Cinco de Mayo. She seems to think that it has become an American holiday.

I had no information for her, but I’m curious about how holidays get assimilated into the dominant culture and how they are transformed in the process. Christmas is making its way into Japan, at least the non-religious aspects of the holiday like lights and decorations. Valentine's Day is now big in Turkey.

My first thought was that the acceptance of a holiday depends on its attractiveness to the culture. But on second thought, I began to wonder about the role of “holiday entrepreneurs” (something akin to Becker’s moral entrepreneurs). Who are they? Ethnic leaders, probably. Promoting the holiday Especially in the current climate of concern, fear, or resentment about Mexican immigration, might be politically helpful.

One hundred fifty years ago in this country, the Irish supposedly needed not apply, and even in the 1880s they were the target of the Lou Dobbs types of the time campaigning against “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” (Maybe there were Harvard scholars, the counterparts of Samuel P. Huntington, warning that the growing Irish presence was undermining the true and good American culture and identity.) Today there are St. Patrick’s Day parades in most US cities, and everyone wears green. But the assimilation of the Irish and the parade didn’t “just happen.” It took work, it took entrepreneurship.

Who knows, maybe the folks at Hallmark are already at work on a line of cards.
I know I’m just a gringo
In Shaker Heights, Ohio
But best wishes, mi amigo,
For a great Cinco de Mayo


Anonymous said...

I work with a Latino/a business network in a "new destination." Last year the organizer of this network worked with the Chamber of Commerce in the micropolitan area to set up a Cinco De Mayo celebration in order to increase awareness of the Latino/a businesses in the community among "Anglos." I know this is only one example, one town, but it backs up your theory there. Thought you might be interested to know this.

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks, myback. This is not something I know much about, but my socio-spider sense told me that this kind of politicking is going on.