On May 12, 2017, The Daily Princetonian broke a story on a Mexican-themed party that took place on campus the night before. Racially insensitive events are so common on this campus that they have come to be expected. In the past year alone, we’ve already had one particularly flagrant example, the 27th annual Mandatory Makeout Mexican Mustache Monday Madness Fiesta in September. Then, as we saw more recently this May, one Mexican party was not enough for the year.
The day after, many students were asking: “What is wrong with this party?”
Why is holding a party based on an identity problematic? Surely the partygoer who said, “We’re not racist! We’re celebrating,” sincerely believed they were doing nothing wrong.
To begin, there are a couple facts about this particular party that deserve clarification. This was not a Cinco de Mayo party. This event took place on May 11, not May 5. No one would celebrate the Fourth of July on the Fourteenth of July. The significance of said holiday is drawn from the commemoration of a specific date and events. This was a party which centered thematically on a racial identity, and its circumstantial proximity to the actual date of Cinco de Mayo is irrelevant.
The problem comes down to issues of racial and ethnic identity. When people show up in racially tinged clothing as costumes to an identity-themed party, it screams, “This is how we perceive your identity.” When an identity is chosen as a theme, it more often than not relies heavily on a caricature or stereotype. It denigrates and diminishes the identity not just of an entire group of people, but also of our peers here at Princeton.
For a readily apparent problematic corollary to highlight this point, one might imagine a blackface party or a party where attendees show up in dressed like Hasidic Jews. Making light of someone else’s identity for your own enjoyment is incredibly callous at best, and blatantly disrespectful at worst. Prima facie putting on a serape, fake mustache, and sombrero and hitting a piñata might be innocent ignorance, but, in the diverse student body that is Princeton, can that really be the case?
As a biracial Mexican-American, I have to ask: Is this what you think a Mexican is? Can a student be so socially isolated as to not have made even a single Mexican or Mexican-American acquaintance? Even so, have reactions to past parties of this nature — like the MMMMMMF held earlier this year — not clued you in to the fact that this is problematic? That party last fall was the reason I began writing for the ‘Prince’; it is sad that at the end of the year, nothing changed.
Many of us in our privileged bubble can brush it all off and ignore these events. It is easy to ask minority students to “get over it” or “not be so offended,” as many of my peers did. This is an inadequate and intellectually lazy response. An op-ed by, Uri Schwartz ’20, a student with Mexican citizenship stating they were “not offended” by the party and dismissing the valid complaints of other minority students is evidence of this view.
The issue with this party is not simply offending Mexican-American and Mexican students. The issue is normalizing ignorance. The repetition of events like these and the lackluster response from the administration is part and parcel of this normalization. Legitimizing the stereotypical imagery helps to entrench racial divides and damaging presuppositions about people of color. This is not to mention the dehumanizing effect of buying into the stereotypes themselves. As much as I find someone caricaturing Mexican people offensive, I am much more troubled by the willingness of Princetonians to defend it on the grounds of it being “not a big deal.” Racism takes hold at all levels. Casual racism being less overtly damaging than a hate crime does not legitimize it. Until we as a community reevaluate what our actions say about how we view not just other people but other Princetonians, I cannot say that Princeton is an inclusive environment, even if the rhetoric we tout says otherwise.
Ryan Chavez is a sophomore in history from Arcadia, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com.