Pi Phi fundraiser opens up culture-minded dialogue

May 7, 2014, 1:28 a.m.

Following Monday’s protests over alleged cultural appropriations of Cinco de Mayo’s Mexican heritage, both the organizers and critics of “Pi Phiesta”—the Pi Beta Phi fundraising event that served as a flashpoint for many protestors—have expressed optimism that a recent dialogue may have set the tone for more appropriate celebrations of the day in the future.

Concerned students initially sought to meet with members of Pi Beta Phi and University administrators last week, after becoming aware of the event’s theme and programming.

“We voiced our concerns about the event and how we were worried [that] if the event…[was] run a certain way, it might be culturally insensitive,” said Brenda Munoz ’14. “[It’s] typical of things that go on during Cinco de Mayo.”

Munoz framed the decision to broach the issue of cultural appropriations of Cinco de Mayo’s heritage this year as reflective of a broader national trend.

“People have been speaking up all over the country,” Munoz said, noting that similar events have elicited controversy at Dartmouth and UC-Berkeley. “We felt this was a good moment to speak up.”

Pi Beta Phi president Raena Sumiyoshi ’15 emphasized that the event has taken place annually for a number of years.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser, where all of our donations go to your national philanthropy,” she said. “[Our] chef works with us to provide all the food—typically Mexican-themed food—and we invite the whole Stanford community.”

Sumiyoshi framed the meeting between the event’s organizers and concerned students as constructive.

“I first started offering an explanation of where we were coming from—the history of the event and our fundraiser—and they all had the opportunity to speak about their specific concerns,” she recalled. “We [then] brainstormed ideas about solutions.”

Following the meeting, the event’s organizers changed the theme to “Pi Beta Paradise.”

Munoz expressed optimism that this year’s dialogue may prompt a more lasting move away from programming that could be construed as culturally appropriative.

“If we bring up these issues now, we can institutionalize it so that it doesn’t happen [again],” she said.

Sumiyoshi struck a similar tone, noting that her sorority internally discussed the potential issues behind the original theme as well.

“We’re learning a lot right now and we will never be going back to [Pi Phiesta],” she said. “[We] will probably still have a fundraiser every quarter but it will be a new theme to stick with…This is a greater stepping stone for broader conversation in the future.”


Catherine Zaw contributed to this report.


Contact Marshall Watkins at mtwakins ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu. 


Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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