COLUMBIA, S.C. – Carolina Pascal recently called her aunt in Barcelona to wish her a happy birthday. Little did 21-year-old intern for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) expect that her overheard "feliz cumpleaños" would lead to her planning the office's Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
The agency's celebration of the Mexican holiday is a newly instituted practice, according to Smithson Jamesfield, the recently promoted Tourism and Recreation Department director within SCPRT.
"Nothing gets my blood boiling hotter than when people claim that South Carolina is backwards and filled with local yokels. Asheville is fine, but the Obamas should really try vacationing in Charleston for a truly cosmopolitan experience, Jamesfield said, referring to the First Family's recent getaway to North Carolina. "We celebrate people of all origins and their respective customs."
Mexico's victory over French forces on May 5, 1862, is not one that is typically celebrated outside of Mexico and the United States, and awareness of the holiday is not widespread in Europe. "It's a little befuddling because I'm Spanish, but they still assumed that I celebrated Cinco de Mayo," said Pascal. "I hadn't even heard of it before I came to the United States. I was like, what's so cool about fifth day of May?"
Despite her initial befuddlement, Pascal has embraced her responsibilities, which include ordering the food and entertainment for the celebration. She had wanted to order paella and pass it off as coming from the Catalan region of Mexico, but she wasn't able to find any Spanish restaurants. Instead, celebrants will chow down on Cubano sandwiches from Real Mexico Restaurant Y Tienda.
Pascal's status as a proxy Mexican is not unprecedented. Risa Fukuyama, the IT manager for SCPRT, was charged with hosting the office's Chinese New Year's celebration, despite being of Japanese descent. And Jamesfield drafted Stan Porter, a native Kansan and office receptionist, to organize the Canadian Thanksgiving potluck buffet after heard him end a sentence with "eh?"