As Cinco de Mayo approached, ASG emailed all Northwestern students calling for a “respectful Cinco de Mayo.” As someone born and raised in Mexico, this uninformed email seemed, in a word, ridiculous. I actually laughed out loud.
Titled “A Call for 'Respectful' Cinco de Mayo Celebrations” the email asked recipients to "[honor] the tradition of El Cinco de Mayo with appropriate, tasteful and respectful celebration." It then invited the student community to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Puebla with piñatas, s’mores and a bonfire.
Now, I am definitely not criticizing the fact that ASG is looking to bring students together to commemorate this Mexican holiday in a healthy way. I think this is very smart and enriching for the campus. The email that was sent, however, reflects a poor understanding of Mexican students on campus, and was not drafted in a way that would make students take it seriously.
In spite of this I am sure the email was sent with the best intentions calling to honor the tradition of El Cinco de Mayo.
“I appreciated that the email clarified the history of Cinco de Mayo and warned against cultural appropriation,” said Medill freshman Alaura Hernandez, whose grandfather is Mexican.
This letter written by ASG President Ani Ajith, executive vice president Alex Van Atta and four current and former Alianza presidents informed the Northwestern community that “drinking tequila shots, eating tacos, and wearing sombreros do not commemorate Mexican culture.” Instead, it read, this “offends, marginalizes, and isolates many of our friends, classmates, and community members.”
It is true that Northwestern has had, and is still having, problems when it comes to racism and stereotypes. Tequila, tacos and sombreros, however, actually are representative of Mexican culture and Mexicans are not as offended of their use as ASG seems to think we are.
I am proud of our stereotypical cultural symbols. When I am back home, I eat tacos with my friends and even listen to mariachi music. No, I do not own a burro or wear a sombrero, it is true, but that’s the thing about stereotypes, they focus on a very small part of a culture or race. The same thing happens with the color green during St. Patrick's Day or with hot dogs and hamburgers on 4th of July.
ASG was looking to raise consciousness and awareness, but this request was poorly executed. The word-choice of the email is what was particularly criticized by Mexicans on campus. Cinco de Mayo celebrations could become offensive, but it is not the tequila and the tacos that makes this happen.
I have lived in the U.S. for almost a year now. Every time I meet someone new I get incredulous looks when I say I am from Mexico (I am blonde with blue eyes.) I have also been asked how often I eat tacos when I am home and my opinion on Chipotle.
These are all part of the Mexican stereotype, a stereotype that most Mexicans don’t mind as much as some people seem to think we do. Tacos, sombreros and tequila are also a big part of this image, a part that Mexicans actually use to celebrate.
“There is a line between respectful celebration (which, yes, can include tacos, sombreros, and tequila) and mocking,” Alaura said.
Like Pablo Garcia, a Weinberg sophomore from Mexico City, said, ASG is making a big deal out of a holiday that is not even a big celebration in Mexico. I, like the other Mexicans I talked to, don’t mind that people in the U.S. take this day as an excuse to have parties. It is only a problem when it turns to people dressing up in offensive costumes, something that was not addressed in the email.
“If Alianza wants to honor the Mexican culture, there are better holidays to do it,” Pablo said. One of which could be our Independence Day on September 16th.
What Mexicans on campus really want is for people to stop walking on eggshells around us. Go ahead and wear your sombreros and drink your tequila, we’ll do it with you! Just treat us like real people and celebrate the aspects of our culture that are colorful, not the ones that are harmful.