As a Mexican citizen, I felt my skin crawl when I saw the headline “BREAKING: Racist Princeton Students Host Mexican-themed Party” posted by the Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization (PULPO). Almost immediately, my phone buzzed with emails from Princeton Latinos y Amigos (PLA), one of which stated that PLA “stands in solidarity” with the Mexican community on campus and that they are “here to support” me and my community during these times.
I then saw The Daily Princetonian’s article on the party. Its headline said “Sombrero-clad students celebrate Mexican-themed party, chant, ‘Cinco de Mayo!’ and ‘Piñata!’” My first question was, “Since when are ‘Cinco de Mayo’ and ‘Piñata’ racial slurs?” I was not at the party, and do not know if anything beyond what is described in the article actually took place. From what I have read, though, it seems that there was a party where people wore sombreros and ponchos, and drank tequila.
At first, I felt confused. It seemed as though the entire Latinx community on campus was outraged about the “racist” party except for me. Should I have been offended? Was I missing something? A few of my friends approached me and cautiously asked me my thoughts about the party. I could tell that they were walking on eggshells when asking me. I responded to each of them that I did not really care much, and that I felt as though the reaction had been a bit excessive. All of them replied by saying something along the lines of “I thought that too. I’m glad you think that as well.” I talked to a few other Mexican students about this, and they all seemed to agree with me that they, too, were not all that offended.
So who, exactly, is outraged? What led PLA and PULPO to argue for changes to Rights, Rules, Responsibilities? Why did they condemn the administration for its silence and for essentially making “a political statement against the Latinx community and other marginalized groups of students?”
I was particularly startled, and quite honestly bothered, by PULPO’s claim that Public Safety is racist because it does not shut down racist parties as quickly as it shuts down parties thrown by minority students. Furthermore, they stated that on the Street, “students of color are reminded, once more, that they are in the minority and do not see themselves represented in the music and general culture of the Street.” This portrays the Princeton party scene as anti-cultural and oppressive toward minorities. As far as my experiences go, and the experiences of my Latinx friends and friends of color, these statements are misrepresentations of the reality on campus.
I am neither here to call anyone a liar, nor to belittle the experiences of others. I am not in a position to tell people what should and should not offend them. But, what I do strongly believe is that the responses of PLA and PULPO to this party were excessive, unnecessarily harsh toward the University, and, in some respects, unsubstantiated.
I want to make clear that I am in no way defending the actions taken by the students who attended this party. Racism is a central issue in modern society, and we must take care not to undermine the legitimacy of our genuine claims of the marginalization of minority groups in some aspects of campus life. I see what is happening on campus as a type of boy-who-cried-wolf scenario. I worry that the responses of PLA and PULPO to what is, in my opinion, a non-issue, will decrease the credibility of their claims if an incident similar to what happened at Baylor University — where students dressed like maids and janitors, put on brown face, and chanted “build that wall” — happens here. If your reaction to some students putting on sombreros is to condemn Public Safety for racism and demand that the University change its policies, then what could the response possibly be to something like what happened at Baylor?
In order to create a more accepting and more welcoming community for all cultures on campus, we need to encourage people to learn about and engage with all cultures. PLA is called Princeton Latinos y Amigos for a reason. We should want “amigos” — non-Latinx students — to be a part of our community.
I understand the anger that some might feel toward the students who threw the party, but instead of condemning them and calling on the University to punish them, we should encourage them to learn how to celebrate Latinx culture appropriately. And yes, as it does in my house, that might sometimes include sombreros and piñatas.
Uri Schwartz is a freshman from Potomac, Md. He is originally from Mexico City, Mexico. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.