Guest Column by Luis Vargas | Cinco de Febrero is not a Mexican holiday

· February 12, 2014, 6:02 pm   ·  Updated February 12, 2014, 9:16 pm

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It's a shame that there are members of the Penn community that feel comfortable throwing a party with a theme that is blatantly racist. Didn’t get invited? Well, I did. Our “amigos” at “El Deuce” are throwing a party this Saturday called “CINCO DE FEBRERO”. Get ready for a tantalizing cultural experience that promises to turn hideous females only worthy of sexual misadventures into beautiful nubile maidens, hold a sacrificial piñata ceremony at midnight and serve “Agua” in both blue and red variations.

It gets worse.

Blue Agua is touted as nectar of the “gods”, known to have transformative powers for women. Red Agua, or “El Rojo del Muerto,” is only for the bravest of conquistadors. Mexican “garb” is encouraged, but not required. To top it all off, the "illustrious gentleman" of the Deuce wrote up a history of the “famous” Mexican holiday, Cinco de Febrero.

The problem?

The entire “history” as dictated by these guys is completely false. The only bit of authenticity in this historical account is the setting. A few Google searches of “Aztec cities” will bring up Tenochtitlan and Lake Texcoco (which was misspelled as “Texoco”). The alleged six hometown explorers who discovered a lost Aztec treasure never existed. “Agua” is not a cultural component of Mexican heritage.

Cinco de Febrero is not a Mexican holiday.

So why would El Deuce feel comfortable with throwing a party with these racist themes and undertones? Ignorance.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened on this campus. In 1990, Sigma Phi Epsilon hosted a “Mexican Night.” The flier for this event depicted a “lazy Mexican” wearing a sombrero and sleeping amidst empty beer bottles. At the time, this was the third such flier to appear on campus in four years. In response, the Asociacion Cultural de Estudiantes Latinoamericanos (ACELA) wrote an open letter to Sig Ep, terming the flier as “frustrating and insulting.” They called on Greek leaders to develop guidelines to prevent further incidents. Soon after, student leaders across campus chimed in, supporting the Latino students affected. The fliers were racially insensitive and disrespectful. Sig Ep issued an apology, but that was not enough.

Fast forward to 2014 and Latino students are still afflicted by this sort of disrespect and racial insensitivity. As a Latino student, I am frustrated and insulted by Cinco de Febrero. Instead of a flier, we are hit with a Facebook event for a party containing an egregious description that’s insensitive to Mexican cultural symbols and disrespectful to the Latino community at Penn. We must engage in an active discussion across cultural boundaries to pass down the necessary cultural education and sensitivity to future generations of Penn students in order to prevent this from happening again.

After hearing about Cinco de Febrero, leaders in the Latino community immediately mobilized to devise an appropriate response. We settled on co-authoring an email explaining exactly why the event is incredibly offensive and racially insensitive. The message reproduces the event description with in-text annotations highlighting exactly where this event went wrong. This email has already been sent to the organizers of this party.

No response yet.

Let this opinion piece act as a red flag to start the conversation of racial sensitivity and respect. My hope is that after reading this piece, readers will be able to identify the ignorance of this incident and call for a broader discussion on racism on this campus. An event description that contains racist, sexist, and colonialist undertones under the veil of a fabricated Mexican holiday is an example of cultural misappropriation that must not be tolerated. This party should be canceled and the organizers should face the issue and engage in our call for a broader discussion. Let’s work together to continue to make Penn a more open, accepting, and understanding environment for people of different backgrounds.

If your party must have a cultural component, please apply it with better taste. Do your research and ask for community approval before publishing an event. I hope that “El Deuce” receives this message loud and clear.

Luis Vargas is a College senior from New York City. He can be reached at vluis@sas.upenn.edu.

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