Northwestern University students received an email before May 5 informing them that eating tacos, wearing sombreros, and drinking tequila on El Cinco de Mayo “offends, marginalizes, and isolates many of our friends, classmates, and community members, and casts our entire community in poor light.”
A Latino student group, Alianza, and the school’s Associated Student Government (ASG) sent a letter to students warning them to be “respectful” in celebrating Cinco de Mayo, an occasion in which Mexico commemorates its defeat of French forces on May 5, 1862, in the Battle of Puebla. In the U.S. it is seen as a celebration of Mexican pride and freedom.
Alianza held a Cinco de Mayo celebration Saturday by roasting marshmallows.
“Unfortunately, instead of partaking in these cultural celebrations and enriching their Northwestern experiences, some of our peers choose to throw ‘Mexican-themed’ parties that are culturally insensitive, offensive, and detrimental to the Northwestern community,” the letter said.
Mexican international students said the letter does not represent their feelings at all.
“I’d like to say that I proudly embrace my tacos, tequila and sombreros,” wrote Ruben Antonio Marcos Bours, a Northwestern student, in a statement. “To me, they are a key part of my childhood, growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.”
“People think Alianza is representing Mexican culture on campus,” student Garcia Romero said. “I see them as representing U.S. hispanic culture. Very few of them have actually been to Mexico. (Mexican international students) don’t have an official student group, but that doesn’t mean we are represented by Alianza.”
Romero said that growing up in Mexico was a very different experience from Latinos growing up in the states. He did not experience being a minority. What he considers to be culturally offensive is completely different from the Alianza organizers. He also noted it was strange for the group to focus on a holiday that is not actually a big celebration in Mexico.
“There’s other holidays that are more important in Mexico,” Romero said. “You have an extra day off, and you might go out and party. ... My friends in Mexico probably drank tequila and ate tacos after.”
Eugenio Fernandez, another Mexican international student, said Alianza tries to represent many Latino cultures, not accounting for how different those cultures are. "My point is Argentina and Mexico are completely different countries," he said. "I don't feel represented at all. I feel very invaded."
Two writers of the ASG and Alianza letter are not Mexican themselves, but Alianza co-presidents Darlene Reyes and Sobeida Peralta said they were not attempting to tell people how to celebrate.
While the ASG president Ani Ajith said they are working on a second letter to clarify their intent, Ajith stood by their earlier statements. "We're not trying to pass judgment on the role tequila or tacos have in the Mexican culture," Ajith said. "It comes down to context and intent."