Letter to the Editor: Alianza clarifies intent over Cinco de Mayo letter

Darlene Reyes, Alianza Co-President

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.

For the COMPLETE and unabridged version of the response letter please click here.

Darlene Reyes, Alianza Co-President, 2013-14
Alianza Executive Board, 2013-14