Sombrero-clad students celebrate Mexican-themed party, chant, "Cinco de Mayo!" and "Piñata!"| May 12, 2017
Officers from the Department of Public Safety shut down a Mexican-themed party on Thursday night at which University students chanted, “Piñata!” and “Cinco de Mayo!”
Around 50 students were in attendance at the party; some wore sombreros, ponchos, and other colorful clothing. One student noted that the party was taking place in commemoration of the death of a lizard.
“We’re not racist! We’re celebrating,” said one student in attendance.
Multiple students outside of the event alleged that the party had been thrown by the University men’s hockey team.
The party took place in the first entryway of Henry Hall, an upperclassmen dorm. Revelers wearing Mexican attire were visible in a window on the ground floor of the dorm. Students also mingled outside of the dorm, where orange streamers had been hung in likely conjunction with the party.
Although Cinco de Mayo is often mistakenly thought to be a celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, it is actually an annual celebration of the unlikely victory of Mexico’s army over the French forces in the Battle of Puebla. In the U.S., the holiday has often been the theme of college parties. One caller made a noise complaint to Public Safety at 10:53 p.m., according to Assistant Vice President for Communications Dan Day.
Two Public Safety officers declined to comment for this article.
“With Cinco de Mayo parties, they make Mexican culture seem like it’s just about tequila and sombreros and piñatas, but it’s about other things,” said Samuel Vilchez Santiago ’19, co-president of Princeton Latinos y Amigos.
The party takes place amid recent campus conversations about cultural appropriation and the harm it can inflict upon others. In a May 4 email to the Whitman community, director of student life for Whitman College Momo Wolapaye reminded students to “be mindful of harmful themes [of social events and parties] and participating in actions that may objectify and denigrate the cultural and social identities of others.” This email is similar to those sent to other residential college communities.
Additionally, a recent flyer distributed by the Carl A. Fields Center that proposed alternative ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo warned students, “Don’t you dare put on that ‘sombrero.’”
Student leaders on campus voiced concerns about the offensive nature of the event, particularly in light of these campus conversations.
“It’s just sad that we see this type of thing repeated every semester,” said Ryan Chavez ’19.
Chavez is a contributing opinion columnist for the ‘Prince.’
Danny Navarrete ’19, who identifies as Mexican-American, expressed anger and confusion about the party.
“There’s this appropriation of culture that’s kind of reducing it down to a caricature, which I find really offensive considering the history of racialized violence based on those caricatures,” said Navarrete. “I find it offensive that they use the theme when it’s convenient for them.”
“It shows that it’s kind of a cultural insensitivity [that this] still exists even though a lot of people think that they’ve moved on past it, even after many talks about how this can be offensive,” said Navarrete. “It’s surprising to see that people — I guess it’s not that surprising for some of us — but people decide to have these parties knowing that it’s problematic.”
“I think people just fail to realize that it is offensive because it’s hard for them to experience it themselves,” said Navarrete. “They have no similar experiences, being white people, so it’s just hard for them to understand that.”
“Also, just the small population of Mexican-Americans on this campus is another factor, I think, because people think they’re in a community where there aren’t that many Mexican-Americans and the Mexican-Americans don’t have that much voice in the first place,” said Navarrete.
“I’m pissed, I’m so pissed, because it happens every Frosh week, every Cinco de Mayo, every Halloween,” Arlene Gamio ’18 said. “And it’s almost always a sports team,” they added.
Gamio explained that this is the third time they have been tipped off about some kind of Mexican-themed party and come to see what was going on.
“It’s just random groups of white people throwing all these parties and saying it’s not racist and not owning up to it,” Gamio said.
Gamio, who is the president of Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization, said that mobilizing against parties like this one is something the organization has been working toward.
“[These students] want to be Latinx for one night, but they don’t want to accept the consequences such as being racially profiled by police and discriminated against by their professors,” said Gamio.
Gamio called for the University administration to take action.
“I think the administration needs to have disciplinary action and they’re too scared to do that. These parties keep happening because they walk away with a slap on the wrist and they have no understanding of what they did was wrong,” Gamio said.
Vilchez Santiago was in agreement that the administration should address the incident.
“It’s not the first time that it happened,” Vilchez Santiago said. “It goes back to the issue of diversity and inclusion.”
In an email today, Day wrote that Public Safety received a noise complaint at 10:53 p.m. yesterday, “noting that loud music was coming from a room with many people in it in Henry Hall.”
Day wrote that it is standard procedure to respond to a noise complaint. He added that if a complaint were raised of an offensive or culturally insensitive party, an officer would not be dispatched but the dean on call would be contacted.
In a statement to the 'Prince', Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter wrote that several "students have reported that some of the conduct at the party was offensive to many members of our community and contrary to our community values of inclusivity and respect for others."
"The reported lack of regard for the sensitivities of others is disturbing and distressing, and my office, along with the Office of Campus Live and others, will be seeking further information to determine whether additional actions need to be taken either in response to this event or to communicate our values and expectations more clearly and more effectively," Minter wrote. She encouraged anyone with information of the event to contact her directly.
This story has been updated to include a response from the University.