International students from Mexico take issue with Cinco de Mayo letter

Skylar Zhang/Daily Senior Staffer

Students roast marshmallows Sunday afternoon at Cinco de Mayo bonfire hosted by Alianza. Alianza and Associated Student Government have received criticism for their e-mail asking students to celebrate Cinco de Mayo respectfully.

Cat Zakrzewski, Campus Editor
May 7, 2013 •

Weinberg sophomore Pablo Garcia Romero grew up in Mexico and had the day off from school every year for Cinco de Mayo. So when an email about the holiday circulated through campus Saturday night, reminding students to not drink tequila or eat tacos, he said he thought it was “over the top.”

“I thought it was funny,” Garcia Romero said. “The people who wrote it had a good intention, but their perspective is different.”

The letter from Alianza and Associated Student Government said the holiday was intended to “celebrate cultural pride and Mexico’s rich history," despite Northwestern dealing with some type of culturally insensitive controversy every academic year.

However, some international NU students from Mexico said the email does not reflect their views.

“People think Alianza is representing Mexican culture on campus,” 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.”

A Mexican international graduate student shared similar sentiments in a Facebook post Monday morning. The post had 172 likes as of Wednesday.

“To whomever wrote and signed that letter, I'd like to say that I proudly embrace my tacos, tequila and sombreros,” Ruben Antonio Marcos Bours wrote. “To me, they are a key part of my childhood, growing up in Monterrey, Mexico.”

ASG president Ani Ajith, who co-signed the original letter, said ASG and Alianza are working on a second letter clarifying the intent of the first after receiving "constructive" and "valid" criticism.

"We're not trying to pass judgement on the role tequila or tacos have in the Mexican culture," Ajith said. "It comes down to context and intent."

Romero explained that growing up in Mexico, he experienced a different culture than Latinos at Northwestern who grew up in the United States. He said because he did not have the same experience of being a minority in the United States, he has a different perspective on what is or isn't culturally offensive.

McCormick junior Eugenio Fernandez, another Mexican international student, said Alianza tries to represent many cultures that are all very different.

"My point is Argentina and Mexico are completely different countries," he said. "I don't feel represented at all. I feel very invaded."

On Cinco de Mayo, Alianza celebrated the holiday by roasting marshmallows at a celebration that was intended to be respectful. At the event, two writers of the original letter, Alianza co-presidents Sobeida Peralta and Darlene Reyes, said they are not Mexican themselves and were not trying to tell people how to celebrate.

“We don’t even know how to celebrate,” Reyes said.

However, the co-presidents said they wanted students to know the true meaning behind Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated more widely in the United States than in Mexico.

Romero said he thought it was particularly strange that the letter targeted a holiday that isn't considered a major occasion 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.”

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