Cinco de Mayo Countdown: Hyper-Sensitivity Run Amok
Cinco de Mayo consistently serves as a platform for universities and their students to complain about “racial insensitivity” among non-Mexican peers.
It seems that any time a student dons a sombrero, it’s decried as culturally biased, or even racist.
In honor of another school year of hypersensitivity run amok, The College Fix presents the top five most Latino-inspired campus overreactions over the last 12 months:
No. 1: Recently, one lone complaint over a Mexican-themed fundraiser to benefit cardiac research at Dartmouth College prompted administrators at the Ivy League university to freak out and cancel the entire event. The joint sorority-fraternity “Phiesta” fundraiser, originally slated for tomorrow, will no longer take place.
What was so racist and insensitive about inviting students “to join Greek members on Phi Delt’s lawn for a performance by campus band ‘Burn the Barn,’ free virgin piña coladas and strawberry daiquiris, chips and salsa, homemade guacamole and Boloco burritos.”?
The offended student, Daniela Hernandez, bemoaned in an email to The Dartmouth that “there are various problematic structures and ideologies regarding a Cinco de Mayo-inspired event, and I am sure that we, as a Dartmouth community, could learn from the extensive literature written about the Americanization of Cinco de Mayo and its construction as a drinking holiday in the United States, cultural appropriation and the inappropriate usage of cultural clothing, and the exploitation of groups of people and cultures for the sake of business opportunities.”
Her “right not to be offended” trumped raising money to save lives, as well as what sounded like a fun and delicious party.
A Cinco de Mayo-themed marketing campaign last year to tout the university’s Oct. 5 football game and designed to drum up a festive spirit among students instead apparently prompted angst among “several student groups and Latino community members” who deemed the promo “offensive, culturally insensitive and inappropriate” and forced the school’s athletics department to grovel for forgiveness, the Cornell Daily Sun had reported.
One of the most insulting parts of “Ithaca: Cinco de Octubre,” according to one student quoted in The Sun, was apparently a photo booth designed to encourage students to dress with the theme.
“I was disappointed that this theme was stereotyping the Mexican culture of which I identify,” student Carmen Martinez told the campus newspaper. “I was especially troubled by the ‘photobooth’ activity, especially after one of my colleagues pointed out that the winner [is the person] with the ‘best costume,’ implying the best Mexican costume was going to win a prize. What better way to invite stereotyping of our culture?”
Even campus administrators got in on the action to chide the campaign, telling The Sun the incident “is an important reminder about how we must function as an increasingly diverse community. … Using stereotypes and other people’s cultures to market events is wrong.”
Members of a Columbia University sorority were dubbed insensitive – even racist – after they donned culturally inspired costumes at an Olympics-themed party. At the mixer, students had the audacity to wear sombreros and pose with bottles of tequila.
The Feb. 22 party prompted politically correct pandemonium at the Ivy League institution – with its interim Dean of Student Affairs going so far as to offer counseling for those who were offended.
A Latino campus group called the party “offensive,” saying “stereotypes are used to oppress marginalized communities.” The sorority in question also begged for forgiveness and promised to launch “social awareness” campus initiatives.
Last October, the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Dean of Students Christina Gonzales said in a memo to students that “sombreros … geishas, ‘squaws,’ … cowboys and Indians” all fall under the insensitive category.
“Unfortunately, stores often sell stereotypical and offensive costumes,” Gonzales stated. “If you are planning to celebrate Halloween by dressing up in a costume, consider the impact your costume decision may have on others in the CU community.”
“As a CU Buff, making the choice to dress up as someone from another culture, either with the intention of being humorous or without the intention of being disrespectful, can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other peoples’ cultures in the CU community.”
And at Ohio University, a student group’s annual Halloween poster campaign called “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” informs students that some of their holiday get-ups – including Latino-inspired ones- are probably misguided and possibly racist.
Last May, an open letter to the Northwestern University community from the student government president and leaders of a Hispanic/Latino campus club admonished students not to eat tacos or drink tequila on Cinco de Mayo.
Those who party on Cinco de Mayo, accused the letter’s signatories, would “have fun at the expense of our peers and the cultures and traditions we should cherish.”
It went on to note that “drinking tequila shots, eating tacos, and wearing sombreros do not commemorate Mexican culture; on the contrary, that offends, marginalizes, and isolates many of our friends, classmates, and community members, and casts our entire community in poor light.”
Thankfully, the effort prompted a backlash from some other natively-Mexican students who said they were offended by the notion and that the request didn’t represent their beliefs.
College Fix contributor Dominic Lynch is a student at Loyola University Chicago.
Main Image: Joe Penningston / Flickr