“It’s that time of the year again.” (In my Jay Pharoah voice)
The biggest celebration of cultural appropriation is about to go down. Unless of course you had an early start like Baylor University’s chapter of Kappa Sigma, which threw a “Mexican-Themed” party this past weekend. “Cinco de Drinko” was the kickoff event for what was going to be an epic week of cultural appropriation, until the fraternity was suspended. C’mon! Kids will be kids, right? Who would’ve thought dressing up as maids, construction workers, and chanting “build that wall” could be interpreted as racist? Leave it up to those politically correct students and administrators with their damn anti-racist stances and offices of equity and inclusion. Anyways, tonight is the night. Bars, restaurants, and frat houses will be packed with people donning sombreros, dining on authentic Mexican cuisine like nachos, tacos, and burritos while knocking down margaritas and shots of tequila.
I would think Halloween’s “my culture is not your costume” campaign would educate folks that race, culture, and ethnicity are not Pinterest dress-up and party ideas. Seriously, is there not anything remotely close to a moment of clarity where someone in your racist group of friends suggests that maybe, just maybe, dressing up in Black face or as an “Indian Warrior,” “Geisha” or “Pocahottie” (Yes, Pocahottie is a real thing) is a bad idea?
In 2017, ignorance is no longer justification for the racist behavior we have and unfortunately will see this and future “Cinco De Mayos.” I implore you to please remove the sombreros and put down the tacos and alcohol this May 5th. However, if you are still uncertain as to how “Cinco De Mayo” is racist, here are a few points of reflection:
1. If you equate celebrating Cinco De Mayo to the U.S. celebrating the Fourth of July; you are not just racist, but a dumbass as well. Cinco De Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican independence. It commemorates Mexico’s victory over France during the battle of Puebla on, you guessed it, May 5th (1862). It’s a minor holiday that people in Mexico hardly celebrate.
2. Cinco De Mayo symbolizes a victory against imperialism and oppression. So, if you’re celebrating Cinco De Mayo, but do not advocate for immigration rights or against the harassing, inhumane, and oppressive practices of ICE then go fuck yourself. (If you have to google ICE then you know what you can do.)
3. In fact, if you celebrate Cinco De Mayo in a manner that commodifies and exploits culture you are engaging in “imperialist nostalgia.” In Eating the Other, bell hooks discusses that “In mass culture, imperialist nostalgia takes the form of reenacting and reritualizing in different ways the imperialist, colonizing journey as narrative fantasy of power and desire, of seduction by the Other.” In other words, white desire for Latinx culture.
4. Still unsure how appropriating Cinco De Mayo works? Here are a few real-life examples illustrating how your Cinco De Mayo celebration can go terribly wrong. These examples are courtesy of the experts in “racially-themed” parties, Duke University’s Program in Education (PiE). PiE has years of experience in cultural appropriation. Their resume includes Asian, India, Italian, and Latino themed parties. Their Latino-themed party, “Fiesta Time,” is a prime example of what not to do.
A) First of all, in the case of PiE, if you are going to throw a “Latino-themed” party and attempt to argue that it is not racist at least make sure you schedule it on May 5th.
B) Scroll through these slides from PiE’s “Fiesta Time” welcome back party. An all white guest list to a “Latino-themed” party is a clear indication that some racist shit is about to go down.
C) Brown face is Brown face. Whether you actually dress up or have your image photoshopped with clipart depicting stereotypical Latino caricatures, it’s still racist. However, if you’re going to engage in Brown face at least make sure it’s photoshopped. That way when the images surface on the front page of the newspaper you can blame that one staff member no one remembers from way back when.
D) Whether you purchase sombreros and maracas from Party City or use sombreros, maracas, and chihuahua graphics in your photos, It’s still racist. (Side note: If you are going to Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat think twice before using emojis like ? ?)
E) When your racist images go viral and you have to issue a statement, do us all a favor and just own your racist behavior. Refrain from using words like “insensitive” and “inappropriate” to describe your racism. You know what’s insensitive? When I go to the kitchen to get something to drink and don’t ask my wife if I can get her something. You know what’s inappropriate? When I take my kids (2, 6, and 8 years old) to a restaurant and they are standing on their chairs fighting over the bread as the server places it on the middle of table. Systemic white supremacy refuses to name incidents like “racially-themed” parties for what they are. Fucking racist. I get it; the resistance to name those parties as anything but racist is out of fear of accountability. Also, if you claim that the intentions of your “Latino-themed” party was to “highlight different foods” make sure you have at least one photo highlighting the different food. However, that’s neither here nor there, the real issue at hand is minimizing Latinx cultures to simply food; literally Eating the Other.
My intention in writing this piece is not to convince people to stay home tonight, but think twice before claiming to be Mexican for the evening. This is not some real-life Mexican temporary Facebook profile picture that expires on May 6th. As part of Mental Health month, understand that you will never understand how appropriating Cinco De Mayo contributes to the racial fatigue Mexican communities encounter. This goes to other Non-Mexican communities of color as well. POC can also appropriate Cinco De Mayo. And to all my double standard, reverse racism claiming racist, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day is not equivalent to wearing a sombrero and fake moustache on Cinco De Mayo. By the way, if you assumed I was Mexican for writing this piece you assumed incorrectly. Yo Soy Boricua. However, I do stand in solidarity with Mexican and Chicanx communities working toward dismantling the systemic white supremacy that invades our everyday lives.
Jason Mendez, PhD is an educator, author, and co-founder of the arts collective Sons of the Boogie. He received his Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum, Culture, and Change from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His interests include urban education, critical race studies, cultural studies, arts as social justice, Boricua identities, and South Bronx culture and history. His work focuses on males of color and traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations in postsecondary education.