Editor’s note: On May 23, we published a letter from Western student Sean Guynes regarding the cancellation of the “fiesta” themed dinners in university dining halls. Guynes criticized the role that the Associated Students Ethnic Student Center club MEChA played in the decision to cancel the dinners. After the letter was published, we were contacted by members of MEChA who wished to submit a response. Typically, we have a 300-word limit on letters, but the members of MEChA asked for more space to fully express themselves. Since we required Guynes’ letter to be shortened before it was published, we asked him if it would be okay to allow the members of MEChA to have more space for their response, which he agreed to.

We want to begin by thanking Sean Guynes for expressing his concerns and giving us the opportunity to respond. As Sean referenced in his letter, MEChA worked with University Dining Services to cancel the “fiesta” theme dinner this year and for future years because the dinner is offensive. MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán) is a national organization that fights for social justice for all groups. We have been very involved this year with supporting students from migrant families, which include immigrants predominantly from México, Latin America, Russia, Ukraine and India. Please see the Ethnic Student Center’s website or come visit us at Viking Union 420 for more information, or come to our club meetings in Academic West room 304 Thursdays at 6 p.m. – everyone is welcome.

We appreciate and agree with Sean’s concerns about the celebration of cultures. The “fiesta” themed dinner was planned by people who haven’t experienced the culture and who have superficial and limited knowledge of its customs and traditions. Because of this, the dinner portrays Mexican culture from a non-Mexican perspective, which tends to include generalizations about the culture that aren’t necessarily true and may harm Western students who may leave the dinner misinformed.

For a more authentic and educational celebration of Mexican culture and other Latin American cultures, we invite everyone to attend the annual Latino Student Union Heritage Dinner, which takes place toward the beginning of every spring quarter.

Students who mostly identify as Latina/o as well as non-Latina/o student allies partake in the planning and running of the event,which allows the Latino Student Union to share its cultures with others. For example, this year’s dinner included a dance called Bachata, which has its roots in the Dominican Republic. Some students who attend the “fiesta” theme dinner in the dining halls may not be interested in learning about and experiencing Mexican culture. We argue that for them, the “fiesta” dinner is still harmful.

The “fiesta” theme dinner was originally supposed to be a “Cinco de Mayo” theme dinner, a holiday generally thought to be Mexican Independence Day.  When University Dining Services asked the Ethnic Student Center for permission and received a no, they simply changed the name to “fiesta” (“party” in Spanish) and kept all the same components. 

In fact, Cinco de Mayo is not a holiday that Mexicans generally celebrate. In México, it is only celebrated in Puebla, where a historic battle took place and where the holiday is called “El Día de la Batalla de Puebla.” It is also celebrated in tourist towns where beer companies, restaurants and night clubs prostitute “Mexican” culture for economic gain. 

Several industries in the United States transformed this day from the celebration of the underdog into ignorant racism. As we’re sure the majority of readers have noticed, many people today, including many people on Western’s campus, participate in dressing up as “Mexican,” enacting popular stereotypes and drinking alcohol on Cinco de Mayo. As University Dining Services linked the “fiesta” dinner with May 5th as a way of “celebrating Mexican culture,” they were positively reinforcing any other manifestations of Cinco de Mayo celebrations. 

In other words, the “fiesta” theme dinner in a way encourages students to believe that it is okay to stereotype and participate in racist activities, even if the people partaking in these activities don’t necessarily know or understand how they’re stereotyping others or how they’re embodying racist and offensive actions. It harms them and is also particularly painful for Latina/o students who see these students as peers, see Western as a home and already see their culture being prostituted by beer and tequila companies.  As a national organization that strives for social justice and the eradication of racism, we acted in the best, most appropriate way to end the “fiesta” theme dinner.

We want to recognize that many people who have partaken in Cinco de Mayo celebrations which we find offensive haven’t ever been exposed to the truth behind Cinco de Mayo.  We recognize that many people don’t know or understand how or why their actions might be perceived as offensive.  We are not blaming these people for not knowing; we are encouraging people to take the time to educate themselves and then make the decision whether they feel it is appropriate for them to celebrate the holiday. 

We are very grateful that University Dining Services took the time to meet with us and listen to our concerns, and we are even more appreciative that they were so willing to accommodate us.  We also want to thank Sean Guynes and others for showing their curiosity about the issue.  MEChA is always open to anyone who wants to learn more about issues such as this one, and we hope to see some of you next year at our meetings!

    Submitted on behalf of MEChA by
    Nadia Saldaña-Spiegle

The AS Review serves as a public forum for students to have their voices heard. Please limit your letter to 300 words and include your name and phone number. Published letters may have minor edits made to their length or grammar, if necessary. You can email letters to as.review@wwu.edu, or drop them off in the AS Publicity Center in Viking Union 411. Opinions in letters are not necessarily shared by the staff.