Letter: Alianza responds to Cinco de Mayo

    Dear Northwestern Community,

    Over the past weeks, there has been a significant amount of discussion over the letter sent to the student body regarding Cinco de Mayo celebrations. As collaborators on this letter, we would like to clear up some of the discussion surrounding the subject.

    The intent of the letter was to bring to Northwestern students’ attention that Cinco de Mayo is a cultural holiday that should be respected and celebrated in a way that is not culturally insensitive. Past celebrations of this Mexican-American holiday have led to derogatory “Drinko De Mayo” events across university campuses. It doesn’t take much digging to find instances of negative portrayals of Mexican Americans on college campuses. However, nowhere in the letter do we tell students, whether they are Mexican-American, Latinos or non-Latinos, how to celebrate the holiday.

    Our organization, is formed to raise an awareness about the place of Latino peoples within the history of race and ethnic relations in the U.S., the nation within which most of our lives and our University are situated, and a nation within which Latinos represent a clearly disadvantaged, underrepresented and misrepresented population within public and higher systems of learning/education.

    Our initial goal was not to discourage students from consuming staple foods or beverages. That is, in fact, how many commemorate their cultures. However, more often than not, celebrations of Cinco de Mayo by non-Mexicans, as well as other types of “cultural celebrations,” go beyond taco and tequila consumption to include rude commentary and behavior, belittling people of Mexican descent and contributing to their marginalization. Alianza understands that much of the disadvantage faced by Latinos in the U.S. derives from misunderstandings and stereotypical representations of their/our history and culture. We thus find our struggle for empowerment connected to the struggle of groups like African Americans, Native Americans and minoritized Asian American populations, groups that have been systematically disenfranchised, in part, as the result denigrating and normalized representations of who they are and what they value. Our campus, unfortunately, has not been a refuge from such conditions. In fact, such conditions seem to have proliferated here as of late, resulting in serious racial and ethnic divisions amongst the student body.

    Considering this, our goal was to communicate to our peers, to the student body, a reminder about the things that divide us, about the kinds of insensitivity that students of color interpret as denigration and as contributing to their marginalization. Put simply, the mockery of the holiday under scrutiny by drinking tequila shots while saying things like “cinco de drinko” are unacceptable as they demean Mexican culture. It is our responsibility, as an organization, to address these matters as they contribute to a campus climate that has proven to make many students of color, and especially those from the most historically disadvantaged and underrepresented segments of our society, feel unwelcomed if not often unsafe.

    Additionally, the bonfire was not meant as a supplementary way to celebrate the holiday nor a recommendation of how to celebrate the holiday. Instead, it was hosted to provide a comfortable space in which everyone, regardless of cultural background, could come and participate in an event for students to learn about the other Latina/o student organizations on campus and build community. That is what the FUEGO bonfire is about, and it just so happened that this year it fell on Cinco de Mayo. We spoke about the history of Cinco de Mayo, but did not call FUEGO a celebration of it.

    To conclude, the purpose of Alianza is to unite and support its members to work towards the advancement of an empowered, productive, Hispanic/Latino presence at this institution. Alianza is a cultural, educational and social programming body, which also serves as a vehicle for activism. We aim to better integrate the experiences of international students from Latin America and we also find it imperative to serve as a resource for them, a place or community that can make them more critically aware of the history of race and ethnic relations in the U.S. and, especially, the social meaning of stereotypes.

    As co-president of Alianza, it is one of my personal goals to create this type of community. I do realize that creating such a community will not come easily as it is a grand task to undertake and I do understand the constant struggle to maintain that community. Until then I ask you to communicate with Alianza’s executive board if you feel as if we do not hold your best interests or are not representing the Hispanic/Latino community as you see fit. We have office hours and we are here to serve you and keep your best interests at the core of of our organization, so allow us to engage with you through these interactions.

    Lastly, harassment through the internet by posting comments and messages to our page is also unnecessary. If you would like to have a respectful conversation about these topics, I encourage you to stop by my office hours on Mondays and Fridays from 2-3pm at the Multicultural Center on the second floor in the Alianza office. I’d be more than happy to listen to your concerns.

    Additionally, if you would like to discuss your own experiences at Northwestern and listen to the stories of other students here, as well as discuss your views about topics such as this, please participate in Community Talks, organized by various leaders of Northwestern’s multicultural student community. If you would like to sign up, please contact communitytalksnu@gmail.com. All are encouraged to participate.

    Darlene Reyes, Alianza Co-President, 2013-2014
    Along with the Alianza Executive Board, 2013-2014


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