Letter to the Editor: MSA and DSA must apologize for “fiesta”

On May 6, 2014, MSA and DSA hosted an event on Lowry Mall entitled “FIESTA” featuring a taco bar, piñatas and a Mariachi band. This “fiesta” was conveniently held on the sixth of May, a day after Cinco de Mayo. We became aware of this event the day that it took place.

Initially, we discovered a tweet from the MSA [Twitter] account stating, “Come get free tacos from @lasiestamex on Lowry for… Seis de Mayo? While supplies last (@StuffToDoAtMU).”

After seeing the tweet, we concluded that this event was in fact a Cinco de Mayo event. It is referenced in the tweets from “fiesta” to the “Seis de Mayo” to having stereotypically Mexican objects present (piñatas, a Mariachi band, tacos, etc.). So, we wanted to start a dialogue with MSA and DSA about the problematic and offensive nature of hosting an event about a holiday in which the cultural and historical significance were given no thought.

We went and spoke to DSA representatives in the Center for Leadership & Service to voice our concerns. We as Latino students took offense to the event, due to the fact that no education was incorporated nor was the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (aka HALO, the largest and longest standing Hispanic/Latino student organization on this campus) contacted. When we expressed our feelings of being offended, we were told it was not a Cinco de Mayo event. We were then brushed off and told it wasn’t meant to be offensive, as if intentions negate the effects of problematic actions.

We are writing this letter to state fully why we are offended, and what we want to see changed. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to commemorate the unlikely victory of Mexican forces against the French in the Battle of Puebla. The reason that this event is relevant to U.S. history is because the French were then unable to support the Confederate Army in the U.S. Civil War. In the 1980s, many corporations began to use Cinco de Mayo, similar to St. Patrick’s Day, as a way to sell products, specifically alcoholic beverages, to maximize capital. Today, we see Cinco de Mayo ‘celebrated’ by the wearing stereotypical costumes of culturally significant items, like sarapes (colorful shawls) or sombreros. We see people consuming large amounts of alcohol, specifically tequila, and even Mexican food — all to “celebrate Mexican culture.”

Cultural appropriation refers to the exploitation of certain aspects of a culture with no regard to the historical and cultural significance. The common Cinco de Mayo celebrations, from ‘Cinco de Drinko’ to ‘Drinko de Mayo,’ in the US are perfect examples of cultural appropriation. This is an issue, not just at Mizzou or in Missouri, but a national issue. These parties are offensive, as they offer no education on the culture behind the holiday. While intent is an important aspect of offensive language and behavior, intention does not change effect.

Had MSA or DSA contacted HALO to have an educational aspect incorporated, the event would have been culturally sensitive. While this event was quite offensive, the abhorrent aspect of this whole experience is the way we, as students who pay for these services, were treated.

When we initially went to start a dialogue about the problematic nature of the event, we merely wanted to state our grievances and begin working on a way to start inclusivity and education in events in the future. Yet, we were met with people unwilling to listen as if our issues were a novelty. After the event, the ‘Seis de Mayo’ tweet was deleted from the MSA account, @StufftodoatMU tweeted at some of us saying:

“While an email about our feedback of the event was necessary, MSA and DSA both have yet to apologize for the event’s problematic nature and have also continually denied that this was in fact a Cinco de Mayo event.”

Mason Schara, the current MSA president, sent a personal Facebook message to a member in our group. Schara must not have known much about the event, as his information was extremely off (even down to the location of the event). So, we spoke with a member of the DSA committee that hosted the event who told us more shocking information.The source said that this ‘finals week food’ event was initially planned on Cinco de Mayo. The source told us that someone in the planning process told the organizers that this event was offensive and that DSA should probably not do it. So instead of listening to a person who said it was offensive and stopping this event, DSA moved it to one day after Cinco de Mayo, as if merely the number of the day changes the intentions.

That organizers knew about the problematic nature of this event, along with the fact that we, as students, who pay fees to support MSA and DSA, were merely brushed under the rug is unacceptable. Not to mention the fact that DSA and MSA have yet to disclose the whole truth, which is that this was supposed to be a Cinco de Mayo event. Instead of pointing fingers, blaming poor planning, or saying that the intent was good, MSA and DSA should admit their own fault and ignorance, and should take this experience as a tool for learning.

The primary reason people go to university is to gain knowledge of the real world, and prepare themselves to the best of their ability to move into the workforce. MSA and DSA need to prepare their students for the real world, a world filled with diversity. Being culturally competent is something we all can do. Learning about the historical and cultural significance of events and objects takes merely a Google search (or attending one of the hundreds of student organizations on this campus).

Likewise, being a good leader means being a good listener; we are all ignorant in our own ways. Admitting ignorance and listening when others speak can foster education so all people are respected. MSA and DSA have a duty to represent students of all backgrounds and cultures on this campus. All people have an equal right to voice their opinions. As Audre Lorde put it, “Your silence will not protect you.” We will no longer be silent.

MSA and DSA need to take responsibility for their actions. As student organizations representing this entire campus, both have the resources available to be educated on diversity, cultural competence and inclusivity. Today, we demand that we are heard; we want a formal and public apology to all Chicano/a, Mexican and Mexican-American students, staff and faculty. As we move forward, we want to see more diversity education, cultural competency and inclusive events. MSA and DSA both should serve all of Mizzou’s campus, not just the dominant culture. Let’s stop the appropriating of other cultures.

Andrew Abarca, aakx9@mail.missouri.edu; Debrielle De La Haye, dcdd45@mail.missouri.edu; and Joel Dalton, jtdy9b@mail.missouri.edu

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