Students demonstrated near the Braun Music Center on Monday in an effort to educate the campus community about the history of Cinco de Mayo and protest the alleged cultural appropriation of the day’s Mexican heritage.
“We were thinking we want to have a demonstration given that today is Cinco de Mayo to raise awareness about the issues of cultural appropriation and why a lot of people can be offended by things that go on on this day,” explained Brenda Muñoz ’14.
Cultural appropriation refers to actions that trivialize aspects of a culture by not respecting a custom’s symbolic significance or the history of a style of dress or other artifact. On Cinco de Mayo, protestors noted, many students wear serapes, sombreros, and fake mustaches in an effort to dress “Mexican.”
In addition to the offensive costumes, students also expressed concern that the meaning of the Cinco de Mayo holiday has become lost for most Americans. The holiday is celebrated more often in the United States than in Mexico because it marks a specific, regionally celebrated battle between Mexico and France, rather than Mexican independence generally.
“I just feel like Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day have just become holidays that have just become the norm now to just drink and people have just accepted and haven’t really stopped to think about that it’s really offensive,” said Karen Oropeza ’17 about the holiday’s misrepresentation.
From demonstration to protest
Around the start of the demonstrations, several allegedly intoxicated students stole and later destroyed two of the demonstrators’ posters.
“I was in my room with my roommate, and we heard people making a ruckus outside,” said Krista Fryauff ’15. “One had a Mexican flag draped around their neck, holding handles of alcohol.”
According to Fryauff, the intoxicated students in question were screaming and disturbing the area, including partying in the fountain in White Plaza after they ripped the posters. Demonstrators described their actions towards the demonstration as threatening toward the Latino community.
“It was very jarring to see that, especially on this campus which in my experience has been a very open and respectful place,” said Maria Acosta ’14.
Following that disruption, demonstrators sent emails to various email lists expressing their outrage and asking for more support at the demonstrations.
“Today was supposed to be more about awareness,” Muñoz said. “I think the last three hours the purpose has kind of changed into a protest in a way to assert our presence.”
Before the protests
The Cinco de Mayo demonstrations followed the events of this past week, which saw several controversies over the ways the University community recognized the holiday.
A planned Mexican-themed party hosted by Pi Beta Phi—titled “Pi Phiesta”—prompted members of the Latino community to call a meeting with the sorority to explain their objections to the theme of the event.
“I attended the meeting where we discussed [the event] with the Pi Phi president as well as other members of Comunidad and Greek life administrators,” Oropeza said. “I would like to think that their intentions weren’t to offend people but yet I am very surprised that [the] administration had not realized that this event has been happening for such a long time.”
Though the event had retained the same theme for several years previously, the organizers changed this year’s programming to feature a summer theme instead.
“By the time we had talked to them for the meeting that we had on Friday they had already decided they were going to change the theme so it ended up being Pi Phi Paradise, I think, and it was just ocean, beach-y, summer,” said Annie Phan ’16, an ethnic theme associate at Casa Zapata.
Last Thursday, Stern Dining hosted a Mexican-themed dinner on May 1, with traditional Mexican food in celebration of the upcoming holiday. Some members of the community expressed concern over the sombreros worn by many of the Dining Ambassadors, the dining staff and various student attendees.
Andrew Vogeley contributed to this report.
Contact Alex Zivkovic at aleksa ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.